Tag Archives: Industrial & Organizational Psychology

Book Review – Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) by Michael G. Aamodt

industrialorganizational-psychology-an-applied-approach-9th-ed.-cover

NOTE: I am reviewing this I-O psychology textbook from a reader’s perspective (i.e., the student’s/learner’s point of view) and not from an instructor’s perspective.

In the preface and addressing a student audience, Dr. Aamodt wrote: “The text is written at a level designed to help you [the student] understand the material rather than at a level designed to show off the author’s vocabulary” (Aamodt, 2023, p. xv). Yes, the purpose of a textbook is to get students interested in a subject so it makes sense to use a writing style that is readable.

I examined SIX topics: (1) training and development; (2) adverse impact determination in employee selection; (3) use of cognitive ability tests in personnel selection; (4) job analysis; (5) motivation; and (6) diversity & inclusion.

The first topic is training and development (Ch. 8). I love what professor Aamodt wrote in the chapter on designing and evaluating training: “the first issue to consider is whether training is the proper solution to a problem. That is, if employees already possess the necessary skills and knowledge but aren’t performing well, the problem is probably one of motivation, communication, or work design rather than a lack of training” (2023, p. 305).

The “Putting It All Together” section of Ch. 8 nicely summarizes the important factors that determine the success of a training program. Figure 8.4 on p. 306 (in the hard copy) shows a really helpful flowchart to assess a training program.

The second topic is well-covered in many I-O psychology textbooks: the four-fifths rule (or 80% rule) [in Ch. 3] used to make an adverse impact determination in employee selection. Here is Aamodt’s explanation of the four-fifths rule:

“With the four-fifths rule, the percentage of applicants hired from one group (e.g., women, Hispanic individuals) is compared to the percentage of applicants hired in the most favored group (e.g., men, White individuals). If the percentage of applicants hired in the disadvantaged group is less than 80% of the percentage for the advantaged group, adverse impact is said to have occurred” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 94).

This is an important area for I-O Psychology students to learn, and I appreciated professor Aamodt’s explanation of the four-fifths rule, using both words and a table [Table 3.2, p. 95] to help the reader understand. I especially liked that he reminded us: “It is important to keep in mind that adverse impact refers to percentages rather than raw numbers” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 94).

The third topic is cognitive ability tests (Ch. 5) in personnel selection.

Cognitive ability tests are “designed to measure the level of intelligence or the amount of knowledge possessed by an applicant” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 162). Cognitive ability tests are often used because they are excellent predictors of employee performance, easy to administer, and relatively inexpensive (Aamodt, 2023).

“Though cognitive ability tests are thought by many to be the most valid method of employee selection, especially for complex jobs, they certainly have some drawbacks. Perhaps the most crucial of these is that they result in high levels of adverse impact” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 162).

“Another drawback to cognitive ability tests is the difficulty of setting a passing score. That is, how much cognitive ability do you need to perform well in a particular job?” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 162).

The fourth topic is job analysis (Ch. 2) or “The process of identifying how a job is performed, the conditions under which it is performed, and the personal requirements it takes to perform the job” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 35).

Here, Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) truly shines. I examined seven other I-O psychology textbooks — Cascio & Aguinis, 2019; Conte & Landy, 2019; Levy, 2017; Muchinsky & Howes, 2019; Riggio, 2018; Spector, 2017; Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2021 — and not one of them offered a detailed, step-by-step walk-through of how to conduct a job analysis, except for Aamodt’s I-O psychology textbook (2023). In the section “Conducting a Job Analysis,” (pp. 48-55) Aamodt dedicated 7 pages to carefully walk the reader through a 5-step process of conducting a job analysis. Outstanding!

The fifth topic is motivation (Ch. 9), one of the most widely researched topics in I-O psychology. Aamodt (2023) defines motivation as “the force that drives an employee to perform well” (p. 315).

“Ability and skill determine whether a worker can do the job, but motivation determines whether the worker will do it properly” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 315).

He goes on to explain that, “measuring actual levels of motivation can be difficult. As a result, other than asking employees about their motivation levels, researchers use behaviors such as those listed in Table 9.1 (Work Behaviors That Imply Motivation) [e.g., high productivity, high quality, number of promotions, not missing work, arriving to work early, staying late at work, volunteering for extra duties, attending voluntary training, etc.] that imply high levels of motivation” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 315).

Yes, it’s crucial we communicate with students and readers that motivation is a concept that is abstract and tricky to measure. We must clearly explain (as Dr. Aamodt has done) how complex and elusive motivation is and not just that it’s interesting to study.

I especially appreciated that Aamodt stated how work motivation relates to work performance: “Actually testing the relationship between motivation and performance is also difficult, because there are various types of motivation (internal and external) and various factors that affect motivation. However, psychologists generally agree that increased worker motivation results in increased job performance” (Aamodt, 2023, pp. 316-317). Well done!

The sixth topic is diversity & inclusion. For this topic, I’m looking for coverage of diversity issues broadly as workplace diversity management. For instance, consider these excerpts from Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.) by Dr. Ronald E. Riggio, Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) by Dr. Paul E. Levy, and Psychology and Work: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (2nd ed.) by Drs. Donald Truxillo, Talya Bauer, and Berrin Erdogan.

“Industrial/organizational psychologists will have to assist organizations in dealing with the challenges increasing diversity will bring. Although diversity has benefits, demographic and cultural differences can, if not carefully managed, create great difficulties in the functioning of work teams—increasing destructive conflict, inhibiting team cooperation, and impeding performance” (Riggio, 2018, p. 18).

“The diversity in the U.S. labor force is increasing at an amazing rate, and the outlook for 2016 paints a very different picture than we have been accustomed to seeing. For instance, there has been an unprecedented growth in the Latino workforce, as it fulfilled earlier projections by surpassing the African American workforce in 2006. In addition, by 2022, it is projected that women will make up almost 47% of the workforce; African Americans, 12%; and Latinos, 19%” (Levy, 2017, p. 275).

“These data trends along with the increasing globalization of organizations result in a very dynamic situation in which organizations must change at a very fast pace to keep up with the changing context in which they exist. This changing nature of the workforce necessitates new HR approaches to managing that workforce. Diversity must become a bottom-line issue if companies are going to be able to compete for—and keep—the best and the brightest. As a result, diversity management (including training) has burst onto the scene as a multibillion dollar industry” (Levy, 2017, p. 275).

“. . . the most successful companies in the world are focusing on diversity issues by emphasizing recruitment, selection, retention, and training” (Levy, 2017, p. 276).

“Today’s workforce is becoming increasingly diverse in terms of race, gender, ethnicity, age, and sexual orientation. The question is not whether the twenty-first-century workplace will be diverse — that’s a certainty. Rather, the question is how an organization can effectively manage the diversity of its workforce through its practices around recruitment and selection, training, socialization and mentoring, leadership, and teams” (Truxillo, Bauer, & Erdogan, 2021, p. 25).

Although in the “New to This Edition” section in Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (both 8th and 9th editions), it stated: “More examples of diversity efforts spread throughout the text,” I did not find this to be the case. This is quite disappointing since, in the United States, in the last several years, there’s been a strong resurgence of interest in and calls for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and a general awareness that there’s increasing diversity in the U.S. workforce.

As Aamodt wrote in the 9th edition:

“Another important factor impacting I/O psychology is the changing demographic makeup of the workforce. Women are increasingly entering the workforce and taking on managerial roles; Hispanics and Latino/as are now the largest underrepresented groups in the United States; Asian Americans are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population; and an increasing number of workers, vendors, and customers have English as their second language. Thus, diversity and inclusion issues will continue to be an important factor in the workplace” (Aamodt, 2023, p. 9).

Yet, despite mentioning the importance of diversity, Dr. Aamodt did not devote any sections to talking about diversity above and beyond what was already in the 8th edition. Indeed, the “Focus on Ethics: Diversity Efforts” section (in Ch. 6) in the 9th edition is almost IDENTICAL (using almost exactly the same wording) as the 8th edition. And the Applied Case Study in Ch. 14 (“Managing Change at Carlson Restaurants”) is VERBATIM (i.e., exactly the SAME WORDS used) as the 8th edition.

Professor Aamodt does discuss diversity as it relates to affirmative action. He spends several pages in Ch. 3 under section “Affirmative Action” (pp. 102-109) talking about affirmative action. However, what I’m looking for regarding diversity (and what other I-O psychology authors, especially Dr. Paul E. Levy, have done really well) is coverage of diversity issues broadly as workplace diversity management.

In terms of workplace diversity management, what’s covered in the 9th edition is inadequate since materials (sometimes EXACTLY the SAME wording) from the 8th edition have been reused. Take for instance in Ch. 4’s “Special Recruit Populations: Increasing Applicant Diversity” section, almost the exact same wording is used throughout, with a few exceptions where “minority” or “minorities” were replaced with “underrepresented” or “underrepresented groups.” BUT, nothing else has been added. Even the research study cited from 2006 (which, in 2022, makes it 16 years ago) remains unchanged. Given the importance of diversity and the role that I-O psychologists and the field of I-O psychology play, it was a huge missed opportunity to not sufficiently cover this very important topic.

In contrast, when I looked in Industrial/Organizational Psychology: Understanding the Workplace (5th ed.) by Paul E. Levy and Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.) by Ronald E. Riggio, I easily found sections and places (after looking at the Index) that mentioned and covered diversity, and professors Levy and Riggio both spent more time and provided more details in their coverage of diversity. In another I-O psychology textbook, Work in the 21st Century: An Introduction to Industrial and Organizational Psychology (6th ed.), professors Jeffrey Conte and the late Frank Landy devoted an entire module to just diversity!

What I Didn’t Like: The Coverage of Complicated & Outdated Formulas

Some areas of the 9th edition were bogged down with explanations of complicated formulas and outdated models (e.g., Ch. 6: Taylor-Russell Tables, Proportion of Correct Decisions, Lawshe Tables, and Brogden-Cronbach-Gleser Utility Formula). As Truxillo, Bauer, and Erdogan (2021) succinctly explained (p. 254): 

“One of the first frameworks for utility analysis was the Taylor-Russell tables (Taylor & Russell, 1939) which were developed back before World War II. Since that time, more sophisticated systems for calculating the dollar value of using a particular selection test have been developed (Boudreau, 1983). These models are generally quite complicated and beyond the scope of this book, although we point the interested reader to more in-depth discussions of utility analysis (e.g., Boudreau, 1983; Cascio & Aguinis, 2019).”

Summary: Overall, I enjoyed Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) by Michael G. Aamodt. The book is easy to navigate and the writing style is readable, although in some instances it veered off into coverage of outdated models and complicated formulas. The one major disappointment about the book, however, is that it’s lacking in its coverage of workplace diversity management. That disappointment aside, I am still delighted to recommend Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) by Michael G. Aamodt.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2023). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (9th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Boudreau, J. W. (1983). Economic considerations in estimating the utility of human resource productivity improvement programs. Personnel Psychology, 36, 551–576.

Cascio, W. F., & Aguinis, H. (2019). Applied psychology in talent management (8th ed.). Sage.

Conte, J. M., & Landy, F. J. (2019). Work in the 21st century: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (6th ed.). Wiley.

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Muchinsky, P. M., & Howes, S. S. (2019). Psychology applied to work: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (12th ed.). Hypergraphic Press.

Riggio, R. E. (2018). Introduction to industrial/organizational psychology (7th ed.). Routledge.

Spector, P. E. (2017). Industrial and organizational psychology: Research and practice (7th ed.). John Wiley & Sons.

Taylor, H. C., & Russell, J. T. (1939). The relationship of validity coefficients to the practical effectiveness of tests in selection: Discussion and tables. Journal of Applied Psychology, 23, 565–578.

Truxillo, D. M., Bauer, T. N., & Erdogan, B. (2021). Psychology and work: An introduction to industrial and organizational psychology (2nd ed.). Routledge.

Disclosure: I received a paperback/softcover of Industrial/Organizational Psychology: An Applied Approach (9th ed.) as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

Why the Ability to Rethink & Unlearn Is So Important

A terrific book I finished last year (in 2021) is Think Again by Adam Grant. Grant says the ability to rethink (or think again) and unlearn habits is as important as the ability to think and learn. We should spend as much time rethinking our problems and our assumptions as we do thinking about them. Successful people adopt a mental flexibility that allows them to be skilled rethinkers. Rethinkers embrace being wrong and failing, while also updating their views.

Here’s a great, but tragic example:

In 1994, on Storm King Mountain in Colorado, high winds caused a fire to explode across a gulch. Running uphill on rocky ground with safety in view just 200 feet away, fourteen smokejumpers (firefighters who parachute in to the site of a forest fire) and wildland firefighters—four women, ten men—lost their lives. When extinguishing the fire or even containing it isn’t feasible, these firefighters need to shift from fight to flight. Instead of dropping their heavy equipments and tools and running as fast as they could to safety, they clung onto (as they’ve been taught and trained to do) their heavy tools and equipments (e.g., axes, chainsaws, shovels, and other heavy gears).

Later, investigators calculated that without their tools and backpacks, the crew could have moved 15 to 20 percent faster. “Most would have lived had they simply dropped their gear and run for safety,” one expert wrote. Had they “dropped their packs and tools,” the U.S. Forest Service concurred, “the firefighters would have reached the top of the ridge before the fire.” -Adam Grant (Think Again)

As Grant explains: If you’re running for your life, it might seem obvious that your first move would be to drop anything that might slow you down. For firefighters, though, tools are essential to doing their jobs. Carrying and taking care of equipment is deeply ingrained in their training and experience, and under extreme stress, these firefighters reverted to their automatic, well-learned responses.

“If you’re a firefighter, dropping your tools doesn’t just require you to unlearn habits and disregard instincts. Discarding your equipment means admitting failure and shedding part of your identity” (2021, p. 7).

Thinking again can help us to generate new solutions to old problems, and also revisit old solutions to new problems. It’s a path to learning more from those around us. We need to let go of knowledge and opinions that aren’t serving us well anymore, and anchor our sense of self in flexibility rather than consistency. If we can master the art of rethinking, we’ll be better positioned for success at work and happiness in life (Grant, 2021).

“Most of us take pride in our knowledge and expertise, and in staying true to our beliefs and opinions. That makes sense in a stable world, where we get rewarded for having conviction in our ideas. The problem is that we live in a rapidly changing world, where we need to spend as much time rethinking as we do thinking.” -Adam Grant (Think Again)

“Rethinking is a skill set, but it’s also a mindset. We already have many of the mental tools we need. We just have to remember to get them out of the shed and remove the rust.” -Adam Grant (Think Again)

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader

Reference

Grant, A. (2021). Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Viking.

Exploring Mindfulness, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), and The MBSR Online Course

mediating man

To ensure that I don’t overwhelm the reader, I have divided the article into SECTIONS:

  1. In SECTION 1, I’ll talk about the concept, origin, and practice called mindfulness.
  2. In SECTION 2, I’ll cover Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), explaining what it is and why there are health and research merits.
  3. In SECTION 3, I’ll outline what’s in an MBSR program/course, including the formal meditation practices.
  4. In SECTION 4, I’ll share my thoughts about taking The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True.

SECTION 1: Mindfulness

What Is Mindfulness?

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are)

For the Mindfulness section, I have included extensive quotations of passages and/or writings from various authors to capture the beauty of their thoughts and writings about mindfulness.

“Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness. It is cultivated by purposefully paying attention to things we ordinarily never give a moment’s thought to. It is a systematic approach to developing new kinds of control and wisdom in our lives, based on our inner capacities for relaxation, paying attention, awareness, and insight.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“[M]indfulness does not involve trying to get anywhere or feel anything special. Rather it involves allowing yourself to be where you already are, to become more familiar with your own actual experience moment by moment.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“Mindfulness does not involve pushing thoughts away or walling yourself off from them to quiet your mind. We are not trying to stop our thoughts as they cascade through the mind. We are simply making room for them, observing them as thoughts, and letting them be, using the breath as our anchor or ‘home base’ for observing, for reminding us to stay focused and calm.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“In mindfulness, strange as it may sound, we are not trying to fix anything or to solve our problems. Curiously, holding them in awareness moment by moment without judging them sometimes leads over time to their dissolving on their own. You may come to see your situation in a new light that reveals new ways of relating to it creatively out of your own growing stability and clarity of mind, out of your own wisdom, and your caring for what is most important.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program – Series 1)

“We are not trying to actively achieve a state of deep relaxation (or any other state for that matter) while practicing mindfulness. But interestingly, by opening to an awareness of how things actually are in the present moment, we often taste very deep states of relaxation and well-being, both of body and mind, even in the face of extraordinary difficulties.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program – Series 1)

“Meditation is not about trying to get anywhere else. It is about allowing yourself to be exactly where you are and as you are, and for the world to be exactly as it is in this moment as well.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Coming to Our Senses)

“If you start paying attention to where your mind is from moment to moment throughout the day, chances are you will find that considerable amounts of your time and energy are expended in clinging to memories, being absorbed in reverie, and regretting things that have already happened and are over. And you will probably find that as much or more energy is expended in anticipating, planning, worrying, and fantasizing about the future and what you want to happen or don’t want to happen. Because of this inner busyness, which is going on almost all the time, we are liable either to miss a lot of the texture of our life experience or to discount its value and meaning.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living)

“We tend to be particularly unaware that we are thinking virtually all the time. The incessant stream of thoughts flowing through our minds leaves us very little respite for inner quiet. And we leave precious little room for ourselves anyway just to be, without having to run around doing things all the time. Our actions are all too frequently driven rather than undertaken in awareness, driven by those perfectly ordinary thoughts and impulses that run through the mind like a coursing river, if not a waterfall. We get caught up in the torrent and it winds up submerging our lives as it carries us to places we may not wish to go and may not even realize we are headed for. Meditation means learning how to get out of this current, sit by its bank and listen to it, learn from it, and then use its energies to guide us rather than to tyrannize us.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn (Wherever You Go, There You Are)

Mindfulness meditation is simple, but it is not always easy. It can be quite difficult to not let your mind wander, and to pay attention without judgment, or without hoping, striving, analyzing, reacting, or trying to change anything about whatever is arising at the moment. And each time a thought, feeling, or body sensation comes up, simply acknowledge and accept it without judgment, then gently escort the mind back to the breath. In mindfulness, when the mind starts wandering, just gently escort it back to the present moment by using the sensations of the breath as an anchor (Greeson & Brantley, 2009).

“Mindfulness is full conscious awareness. It is paying full conscious attention to whatever thoughts, feelings and emotions are flowing through your mind, body, and breath without judging or criticizing them in any way. It is being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment without being trapped in the past or worrying about the future. It is living in the moment not for the moment.” -Danny Penman (The Art of Breathing)

“Mindfulness is not a religion nor is it ‘opting out’ or detaching yourself from the world. It’s about connecting and embracing life in all of its chaotic beauty, with all of your faults and foibles. The aim of mindfulness is not to intentionally clear the mind of thoughts. It is to understand how the mind works. To see how it unwittingly ties itself in knots to create anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and exhaustion. It teaches you to observe how your thoughts, feelings, and emotions rise and fall like waves on the sea. And in the calm spaces in between lie moments of piercing insight.” -Danny Penman (The Art of Breathing)

“Mindfulness can help us see and accept things as they are. This means we can come to peace with the inevitability of change and the impossibility of always winning. The concerns about things going wrong that fill our minds each day begin to lose their grip. The traffic jam, rained-out picnic, misplaced keys, and lost sales are all easier to accept. We become more comfortable with the reality that sometimes we’ll get the date or the promotion and other times we won’t. By letting go of our struggle to control everything, we become less easily thrown by life’s daily ups and downs—and less likely to get caught in emotional problems like depression and anxiety or stress-related physical problems like chronic pain and insomnia.” -Ronald Siegel (The Mindfulness Solution)

Seven key attitudes of mindfulness (Kabat-Zinn, 2005b)

  1. Non-judging. Be an impartial witness to your own experience. Become aware of the constant stream of judging and reacting to inner and outer experience
  2. Patience. A form of wisdom, patience demonstrates that we accept the fact that things sometimes unfold in their own time. Allow for this
  3. Beginner’s Mind. Remaining open and curious allows us to be receptive to new possibilities and prevents us from getting stuck in the rut of our own expertise
  4. Trust. Develop a basic trust with yourself and your feelings. Know it’s OK to make mistakes
  5. Non-Striving. The goal is to be with yourself right here, right now. Pay attention to what is unfolding without trying to change anything
  6. Acceptance. See things as they are. This sets the stage for acting appropriately in your life no matter what is happening
  7. Letting Go. When we pay attention to our inner experience, we discover there are certain thoughts, emotions, and situations the mind wants to hold onto. Let your experience be what it is right now
Origin of the Word ‘Mindfulness’

For the origin of the word mindfulness, I consulted an article by Rupert Gethin (2011). Gethin’s article cited Monier Williams’, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872). Thus, I have referenced both Gethin’s explanation as well as looked in Monier Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872) regarding the origin of the word mindfulness.

T. W. Rhys Davids was (most likely) the first person to, beginning in 1881 and finally settling in 1910 (Lomas, 2017), translate the Buddhist technical term sati (in its Pali form) or smrti (in its Sanskrit form) into the English word ‘mindfulness.’ We’re unsure as to why Rhys Davids chose this word since he never reveals the reason. According to Gethin (2011), the dictionaries available to Rhys Davids at the time – especially Monier Williams’ A Sanskrit-English Dictionary (1872) – would suggest such translations as ‘remembrance, memory, reminiscence, recollection, thinking of or upon, bearing in mind, calling to mind’ (from Monier Williams, 1872). Monier Williams (1872) offered the following as a range of meanings: ‘to recollect, call to mind, bear in mind, think of, think upon, be mindful of’, and this may have suggested the translation ‘mindfulness’ (Gethin, 2011). Interestingly, Gethin (2011) noted that “there is no reason to assume that ‘mindfulness’ is necessarily a particularly surprising translation of sati; the OED records the use of the English ‘mindfulness’ in the sense of ‘the state or quality of being mindful; attention; memory (obs.); intention, purpose (obs.)’ from 1530 (www.oed.com)” (pp. 263-264).

However, “it seem clear . . . that with Rhys Davids’ translation of the Mahāsatipatthāna Sutta [in 1910], ‘mindfulness’ soon became established as the only possible English translation of sati” (Gethin, 2011, p. 265). 

Secular Application of Mindfulness Meditation

In the late 1970s, the molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn, a longtime meditator in the Zen Buddhist tradition saw the chance to introduce meditation to the American public—without the Buddhist framework or terminology—by scrubbing meditation of its religious origins (Heffernan, 2015).

“Mindfulness is basically just a particular way of paying attention and the awareness that arises through paying attention in that way. It is a way of looking deeply into oneself in the spirit of self-inquiry and self-understanding. For this reason it can be learned and practiced, as is done in mindfulness-based programs throughout the world, without appealing to Asian culture or Buddhist authority to enrich it or authenticate it. Mindfulness stands on its own as a powerful vehicle for self-understanding and healing. In fact, one of the major strengths of MBSR and of all other specialized mindfulness-based programs such as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) is that they are not dependent on any belief system or ideology. Their potential benefits are therefore accessible for anyone to test for himself or herself” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013, p. lxii)

Kabat-Zinn’s key innovation was taking the traditional week-long meditation retreat (which were typical offerings at the time in the U.S.), but which were inaccessible to those with busy lives, and offer participants classes that took place once a week for eight weeks. Participants, who usually numbered between 35 and 40 per course, were assigned guided meditation recordings to use at home for 45 minutes each day for the duration of the course. They were also instructed on how to be mindful of their breath during their daily activities, expanding the meditative practices and awareness into every part of their lives (Nisbet, 2017).

Envisioning the Application of Mindfulness Meditation

Kabat-Zinn (2011, p. 287) shared about how he came to conceive, formulate, and share the essence of meditation and yoga practices with the world:

“On a two-week vipassanā retreat at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts, in the Spring of 1979, while sitting in my room one afternoon about Day 10 of the retreat, I had a ‘vision’ that lasted maybe 10 seconds. I don’t really know what to call it, so I call it a vision. It was rich in detail and more like an instantaneous seeing of vivid, almost inevitable connections and their implications. It did not come as a reverie or a thought stream, but rather something quite different, which to this day I cannot fully explain and don’t feel the need to.

“I saw in a flash not only a model that could be put in place, but also the long-term implications of what might happen if the basic idea was sound and could be implemented in one test environment—namely that it would spark new fields of scientific and clinical investigation, and would spread to hospitals and medical centres and clinics across the country and around the world, and provide right livelihood for thousands of practitioners. Because it was so weird, I hardly ever mentioned this experience to others. But after that retreat, I did have a better sense of what my karmic assignment might be. It was so compelling that I decided to take it on wholeheartedly as best I could.

“It struck me in that fleeting moment that afternoon at the Insight Meditation Society that it would be a worthy work to simply share the essence of meditation and yoga practices as had been learning and practicing them at that point for 13 years, with those who would never come to a place like IMS [Insight Meditation Society] or a Zen Center, and who would never be able to hear it through the words and forms that were being used at meditation centres, or even, back in those days, at yoga centres, which were few and far-between, and very foreign as well.

“A flood of thoughts following the extended moment filled in the picture. Why not try to make meditation so commonsensical that anyone would be drawn to it? Why not develop an American vocabulary that spoke to the heart of the matter, and didn’t focus on the cultural aspects of the traditions out of which the dharma emerged, however beautiful they might be, or on centuries-old scholarly debates concerning fine distinctions in the Abhidharma. This was not because they weren’t ultimately important, but because they would likely cause unnecessary impediments for people who were basically dealing with suffering and seeking some kind of release from it. And, why not do it in the hospital of the medical centre where I happened to be working at the time? After all, hospitals do function as ‘dukkha magnets’ in our society, pulling for stress, pain of all kinds, disease and illness, especially when they have reached levels where it is impossible to ignore them. What better place than a hospital to make the dharma available to people in ways that they might possibly understand it and be inspired by a heartfelt and practical invitation to explore whether it might not be possible to do something for themselves as a complement to their more traditional medical treatments, since the entire raison d’être of the dharma is to elucidate the nature of suffering and its root causes, as well as provide a practical path to liberation from suffering? All this to be undertaken, of course, without ever mentioning the word ‘dharma'” (Kabat-Zinn, 2011, p. 287-288).

SECTION 2: Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week mindfulness meditation training program that includes weekly classes, daily audio-guided home practice, and a day-long retreat (Creswell, 2017). MBSR combines mindfulness meditation and hatha yoga over an 8-week training program in which participants are taught techniques designed to hold their attention in the present moment over extended periods of time. Participants meet on a weekly basis for two-to-three-hour sessions plus one full-day session. They are also assigned homework where they’re required to practice the techniques on their own time using guided meditations and course materials for approximately 45 to 60 minutes per day, six days per week. The program is held in a group setting, but also includes time for individual feedback and support (Reb & Choi, 2014).

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an intensive eight-week training in meditation, hatha yoga, body awareness, behavioral awareness, and emotional awareness (Pai, Shuart, & Drake, 2021) developed in 1979 by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn at the Center for Mindfulness, part of the Department of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School (now UMass Memorial Health Care Center for Mindfulness). Originally developed as an outpatient stress reduction program for medical patients who were not responding to traditional treatments, its aim was to complement the more traditional medical treatments by challenging patients to train and participate in meditative practices (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Three formal mindfulness practices of MBSR include: body scan meditation (awareness of the body, region by region), sitting meditation (breathing awareness and awareness of body, feeling tone, mental states, and mental contents), and mindful hatha yoga (gentle, slow stretching & strengthening exercises; emphasizing body awareness) (Cullen, 2011; Kabat-Zinn, 2005b; Salmon, Sephton, & Dreeben, 2011; Santorelli, Meleo-Meyer, Koerbel, Kabat-Zinn, Blacker, Herbette, & Fulwiler, 2017). These three practices are recorded on CDs and given to participants in the eight-week in-person MBSR program to provide home-based guidance. Each practice is designed to encourage exploration of specific experiences: somatosensory (body scan), cognitive (sitting meditation), and kinesthetic (hatha yoga) (Salmon et al., 2011). These core practices typically require a total home practice time of 45-60 minutes a day, six days a week (Salmon et al., 2011; Siegel, 2010).

Early History and Usage of MBSR

At the beginning, Kabat-Zinn referred to what he was doing with patients in the Stress Reduction Clinic (the clinic he founded in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center) as training in “mindfulness meditation” (the term had already been used in the psychological literature). According to Kabat-Zinn, it wasn’t until some point in the early 1990s, over a decade later, that he and his colleagues felt it made sense to formally begin calling what they were doing mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) (Kabat-Zinn, 2011).

Interestingly, it took a long while to move from formally calling what they were doing as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to formally using the word MBSR in his highly acclaimed book Full Catastrophe Living. Even as late as 2005, with the 15th Anniversary Edition of Full Catastrophe Living (2005), the word MBSR is used only in the “Introduction to the 15th Anniversary Edition” section and used just 10 times. It isn’t found anywhere else in the rest of that book. It isn’t until the Revised & Updated Edition of Full Catastrophe Living (2013) that the word MBSR is used freely and openly (can be found over 300 times) throughout the book.

According to Kabat-Zinn (2003, p. 149), “the Stress Reduction Clinic, embedded within a department of medicine and a division of preventive and behavioral medicine, was originally designed to serve as a referral service for physicians and other health providers, to which they could send medical patients with a wide range of diagnoses and conditions who were not responding completely to more traditional treatments, or who were ‘falling through the cracks’ in the health care system altogether and not feeling satisfied with their medical treatments and outcomes. MBSR was thus framed from the beginning as a generic challenge to each patient to train in ancient and potentially transformative meditative practices as a complement to his or her medical treatments. The clinic, in the form of an 8-week program for outpatients, was meant to serve as an educational (in the sense of inviting what is already present to come forth) vehicle through which people could assume a degree of responsibility for their own well-being and participate more fully in their own unique movement towards greater levels of health by cultivating and refining our innate capacity for paying attention and for a deep, penetrative seeing/sensing of the interconnectedness of apparently separate aspects of experience, many of which tend to hover beneath our ordinary level of awareness regarding both inner and outer experience.”

Evidence-Based Support for MBSR

Randomized clinical trial or randomized controlled trial (RCT) is an experimental design in which patients are randomly assigned to a group that will receive an experimental treatment, such as a new drug, or to one that will receive a comparison treatment, a standard-of-care treatment, or a placebo. The random assignment occurs after recruitment and assessment of eligibility but before the intervention (VandenBos, 2015).

When properly designed, conducted, and reported, randomized controlled trials (RCTs) represent the gold standard in evaluating the effectiveness of healthcare interventions. RCTs are considered the gold-standard for studying causal relationships as randomization eliminates much of the bias inherent with other study designs (Hariton & Locascio, 2018). While certainly not without limitations, “RCTs have revolutionized medical research and improved the quality of health care by clarifying the benefits and drawbacks of countless interventions” (Bothwell, Greene, Podolsky, & Jones, 2016, p. 2179).

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) provide “promising evidence that mindfulness interventions can improve mental and physical health, cognitive and affective factors, and interpersonal outcomes. Some of the strongest and most reliable RCT evidence indicates that mindfulness interventions (and particularly 8-week mindfulness programs, such MBSR and MBCT) improve the management of chronic pain, reduce depression relapse rates in at-risk individuals, and improve substance abuse outcomes” (Creswell, 2017).

Likewise, in a meta-analysis systematically analyzing the effects of mindfulness-based programs (MBPs) on different outcomes in occupational settings (with 2689 program participants and 2472 employees in control groups), mindfulness in the workplace effectively reduced perceived stress and health complaints while improving well-being and work-related outcomes (work engagement, productivity, job satisfaction). The meta-analysis showed solid evidence that MBPs in the workplace had positive effects on perceived stress, subsyndromal symptoms, burnout, mindfulness, and well-being, across different occupational groups and organizational structures (Vonderlin, Biermann, Bohus, & Lyssenko, 2020).

SECTION 3: MBSR Program/Course

MBSR Course – Session Theme (Brandsma, 2017)

  • Session 1: Understanding that there is more right with you than wrong with you
  • Session 2: Exploring perception and creative responding
  • Session 3: Discovering the pleasure and power of being present
  • Session 4: Understanding the impact of stress
  • Session 5: Finding the space for making choices
  • Session 6: Working with difficult situations
  • All Day Silent Retreat: This daylong guided retreat takes place between weeks six and seven. The intensive nature of this daylong session is intended to assist participants in firmly and effectively establishing the use of mindfulness across multiple situations in their life, while simultaneously preparing them to utilize these methods far beyond the conclusion of the program.
  • Session 7: Cultivating kindness toward self and others
  • Session 8: Embarking on the rest of your life

MBSR Formal Meditation Practices (in the order they’re presented [Brandsma, 2017, pp. 8-9]):

  • Eating meditation: Mindful eating (typically using a raisin); being aware of all of the sensations and shifts of attention, including loss of attention
  • Body scan: Lying meditation; checking in with individual body parts and being aware of all sensations and attention shifts, including loss of attention
  • Mindfulness of breathing: Sitting meditation; learning to work with attention by focusing on an object (one’s breathing)
  • Sitting meditation: Sitting meditation; checking in with each object of attention (body, sound, thoughts, and feelings), then sitting with open (choiceless) awareness, as in vipassana meditation
  • Mindful yoga, lying postures: Yoga-based stretches; being aware of physical sensations, reactions to these sensations, boundaries, balance, and doing mode versus being mode of mind
  • Mindful yoga, standing postures: Similar to mindful yoga in lying poses, but utilizing standing postures
  • Walking meditation: Walking slowly while bringing awareness to the movement of the feet
  • Visualization meditation: Guided meditation involving visualization of an image (such as a mountain, lake, or tree); inviting a certain attitude, such as openness or firmness
  • Metta meditation: Sitting meditation; cultivating the qualities of the heart

SECTION 4: The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True

The MBSR Online Course – Thoughts & Impressions

Back when I was researching mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for my PhD dissertation, I dreamed of one day completing a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program taught by instructors at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Recently, and very much to my surprise, I discovered that this highly regarded MBSR program is now available online! What a privilege and delight it was for me to be able to participate in and complete The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True. The program/course* is provided via video-on-demand (i.e., allows you to participate at your own pace and from anywhere). The MBSR Online Course is a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that follows the same well-respected curriculum and methodology at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Perhaps most impressive of all, The MBSR Online Course is taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli (former director of the Center for Mindfulness) and Florence Meleo-Meyer (former senior instructor at the Center for Mindfulness).

*[NOTE] – The terms “program” and “course” are used interchangeably when describing an MBSR program. Kabat-Zinn refers to it as an MBSR program in his writings. However, the MBSR program I signed up for uses the word “course” instead of program – The MBSR Online Course.

I was able to complete The MBSR Online Course at my own pace and in the comfort of my own home. I also liked and appreciated the ability to download and save all course videos, to watch and/or listen to them on my computer. This really came in handy when there were Internet/Wi-Fi issues or problems with the Sounds True website which made watching the videos online spotty or sluggish.

The MBSR Online Course – Overview

The MBSR Online Course consists of eight weekly classes and one daylong class. This highly participatory, practical course includes:

• More than 16 hours of video instruction on mindfulness meditation, stretching, mindful yoga, and guidance for enhancing awareness in everyday life
• Four hours of guided mindfulness practice on audio
• A series of questions and prompts available in PDF format
• % Complete to track your progress through the course
• “A Day of Mindfulness”—a daylong, self-led audio retreat to culminate your training
• Daily home practice assignments for 45-60 minutes each day for eight weeks

The MBSR Online Course – Summary

The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True (taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyer [former director and former senior instructor, respectively, at the Center for Mindfulness]) is an excellent online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. It is reputable, affordable, and aligned with the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Authorized Curriculum Guide, which Santorelli and his colleagues wrote and edited (Santorelli, Meleo-Meyer, Koerbel, Kabat-Zinn, Blacker, Herbette, & Fulwiler, 2017).

In his book, The Mindfulness Teaching Guide: Essential Skills and Competencies for Teaching Mindfulness-Based Interventions, Rob Brandsma (2017) wrote:

“A proficient mindfulness teacher . . . [makes] participants feel as if the teacher is walking by their side in the field of new experiences—a field that is unknown to them, where they can easily lose their bearings. The most important form of support and care you can offer participants is the sense that you recognize and appreciate their search process—that you know the field and can, if need be, take them by the hand part of the way” (p. 33).

The MBSR Online Course is extremely well-designed to be delivered in an on-demand video format and taught by two expert mindfulness teachers. Dr. Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyer made me feel like they were there walking beside me, supporting me in the process, and encouraging me to keep trying. I cannot think of two more capable and qualified mindfulness teachers to teach Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). What a gift!

Takeaways

Mindfulness is intentionally paying attention to whatever thoughts, feelings, or body sensations that arise in the present moment, inside or outside of us. It’s being able to do this (i.e., paying attention on purpose) without judgment, without trying to get anywhere, without trying to feel anything special, and without trying to attain, achieve, fix, or solve anything. It’s being fully aware of whatever is happening in the present moment, and without being stuck in the past or being anxious about the future. It’s letting yourself be where you are and as you are, and for the world to be as it is.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is an 8-week mindfulness meditation training program that includes weekly classes, daily audio-guided home practice, and a day-long retreat. It combines mindfulness meditation and hatha yoga over an 8-week training program in which participants are taught techniques designed to focus their attention in the present moment over extended periods of time.

I was so delighted to complete The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True. It’s a complete online Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program that follows the curriculum and methodology taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Perhaps best of all, it’s taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli (former director of the Center for Mindfulness) and Florence Meleo-Meyer (former senior instructor at the Center for Mindfulness).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Bothwell, L. E., Greene, J. A., Podolsky, S. H., & Jones, D. S. (2016). Assessing the Gold Standard — Lessons from the History of RCTs. The New England Journal of Medicine, 374(22), 2175-2181.

Brandsma, R. (2017). The Mindfulness Teaching Guide: Essential Skills and Competencies for Teaching Mindfulness-Based Interventions. New Harbinger Publications.

Brantley, J. (2011). Mindfulness FAQ. In B. Boyce (Ed.), The Mindfulness Revolution: Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditation Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life (pp. 38-45). Shambhala Publications, Inc.

Creswell, J. D. (2017). Mindfulness Interventions. Annual review of psychology, 68, 491-516.

Cullen, M. (2011). Mindfulness-based interventions: An emerging phenomenon. Mindfulness, 2(3), 186-193.

Gethin, R. M. (2011). On some definitions of mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 263-279.

Greeson, J., & Brantley, J. (2009). Mindfulness and anxiety disorders: Developing a wise relationship with the inner experience of fear. In F. Didonna (Ed.), Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness (pp. 171-188). Springer.

Hariton, E., & Locascio, J. J. (2018). Randomised controlled trials – The gold standard for effectiveness research. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 125(13), 1716.

Heffernan, V. (2015, April 14). The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/19/magazine/the-muddied-meaning-of-mindfulness.html

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. Delacorte Press.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2002). Guided Mindfulness Meditation Program: Series 1. Sounds True.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144-156.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005a). Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. Hyperion.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005b). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (15th Anniversary ed.). Delta Trade.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2005c). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (10th ed.). Hachette Books.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 281-306.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Revised and Updated ed). Bantam Books.

Lomas, T. (2017, March 17). Where Does the Word ‘Mindfulness’ Come From? https://www.huffpost.com/entry/where-does-the-word-mindfulness-come-from_b_9470546

Monier-Williams, M. (1872). A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged. The Clarendon Press.

Nisbet, M. C. (2017). The Mindfulness Movement: How a Buddhist Practice Evolved Into a Scientific Approach to Life. Skeptical Inquirer, 41 (3). https://skepticalinquirer.org/2017/05/the-mindfulness-movement/

Pai, A. B., Shuart, L. V., & Drake, D. F. (2021). Integrative Medicine in Rehabilitation. In D. X. Cifu (Ed.), Braddom’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (6th ed.) (pp. 364-373). Elsevier Inc.

Penman, D. (2018). The Art of Breathing: The Secret to Living Mindfully. Conari Press.

Reb, J., & Choi, E. (2014). Mindfulness in Organizations. The psychology of meditation (pp. 1-31). Research Collection Lee Kong Chian School of Business. https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/lkcsb_research/4199

Salmon, P. G., Sephton, S. E., Dreeben, S. J. (2011). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. In J. D. Herbert & E. M. Forman (Eds.), Acceptance and mindfulness in cognitive behavior therapy: Understanding and applying the new therapies (pp. 132-163). John Wiley & Sons.

Santorelli, S., Meleo-Meyer, F., Koerbel, L., Kabat-Zinn, J., Blacker, M., Herbette, G., & Fulwiler, C. (2017). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Authorized Curriculum Guide. Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (CFM), University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Siegel, R. D. (2010). The Mindfulness Solution: Everyday Practices for Everyday Problems. Guilford Press.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). American Psychological Association.

Vonderlin, R., Biermann, M., Bohus, M., & Lyssenko, L. (2020). Mindfulness-Based Programs in the Workplace: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Mindfulness, 11, 1579-1598.

Disclosure: I purchased The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True on my own. Sounds True did NOT sponsor my review and I’m NOT affiliated with Sounds True in any manner. I did NOT receive anything for my review of The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True. I’m simply recommending The MBSR Online Course by Sounds True (as taught by Dr. Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyer) because I thought it was phenomenal.

Book Review — Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most by Bill Berman and George Bradt

influence and impact

“What we have found, again and again, is that people tend to underperform because they do what is comfortable, what is familiar, or what they desire, rather than what is most important to the organization. The majority of people we have coached believed they were doing the right things, but they did not understand the organization’s top priorities.” -Bill Berman & George Bradt (Influence and Impact, p. 11)

What Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt Is About

Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt is about how you can overcome the frustration and lack of satisfaction in one’s job by focusing on the job that your company and its organizational culture want you to do. On the inside front cover of the book, it states: “regardless of your formal job description, your real occupation is meeting the needs and expectations of the people around you” (Berman & Bradt, 2021). Excel in your role by discovering and excelling at what your organization needs from you the most. The key is to move beyond job descriptions and focus on the real-time needs and expectations of the people who depend on you every single day.

“. . .people lose their ability to influence others and impact the organization because they are not focused on the most essential, mission-critical business and cultural priorities. They usually do not even know what those are! Often, organizations and managers are not as explicit as they should be about the focus of their employees’ work, the culture of the organization, or their own needs and expectations” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2-3).

“The really great news is that despite these common challenges, you can enhance your influence and impact by focusing on the mission-critical parts of your role (the business) without anyone explicitly telling you what they are. You can be more effective by learning about and adapting to the behaviors, relationships and mores of the organization (the culture)—or you may realize, after reading the first parts of this book, that it’s just not a fit and you would flourish more in a different organization” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2-3).

Berman and Bradt (2021) wrote: “For a large majority of people, the struggle to have influence or impact and satisfaction in their work comes, not from external factors, but rather from something that they are able to manage and change” (p. 2).

“What has become clear to us, through our work with people from CEOs to first-line managers, and even individual contributors, is that many people are unintentionally misunderstanding critical aspects of their job. When organizations send clients to us for executive coaching or onboarding, we look carefully at how they spend their time, how they think about their job, and how they do that job” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2).

“Many times, we find that they are not focused on the essential elements of their job. They may be doing someone else’s job unintentionally. They may be trying to do their colleagues’ jobs, either implicitly or by making a premature power grab to take on greater scope or responsibility. Sometimes, they are only doing one part of their job—the part they like, or the part that is most familiar” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 2).

“What is influence? What is impact? How are they different? Influence is the indirect or intangible effect you have on others, based on what you do, how you do it, how you communicate it, and who you are. Impact is the direct and observable effect you have on the entities you deal with—your manager, your team, your organization. We are particularly focused on helping you improve the effect you have on others—your influence—in ways that result in a significant or major effect on your manager, your team, and your organization—your impact. This is the key to professional success in organizations: Doing the job that is needed, in the way that is needed, consistently and effectively” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 3).

“People work for different reasons. For some, it is simply to have enough money to live their life the way they want. For others, it is a passion, something they do to feel fulfilled. But whatever the reason, having influence on others, and an impact on the organization you work for, is going to make you feel good about what you are doing. One of the major sources of job satisfaction is feeling that you make a difference, that you have an effect on the people you work with and the organization you work for. Whether you are looking to climb the corporate ladder, or find gratification in your current job, having influence and impact on others will boost your happiness and gratitude” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 3).

Under the heading, “What Gets in the Way?” Berman and Bradt (2021) wrote:

“So, what is the disconnect between you and what your organization needs from you most? What causes you to feel stuck, or stalled, that you aren’t having the impact you want? How can you bring more value to your company and meaning for yourself? In many situations, you are making one or two simple but consequential mistakes: You are not focused on the mission-critical parts of your responsibilities, or you are not doing them in the way that the organization can understand and embrace” (p. 11).

Influence and Impact

“What we have found, again and again, is that people tend to underperform because they do what is comfortable, what is familiar, or what they desire, rather than what is most important to the organization. The majority of people we have coached believed they were doing the right things, but they did not understand the organization’s top priorities” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 11).

You can enhance your influence and impact by identifying and consistently focusing on the mission critical parts of your role and the essential aspects of the culture of your organization. The steps to building your influence are (Berman, 2021):

  1. Start by learning about yourself – your strengths, your values, and your preferences.
  2. Learn about what your job really is – by having conversations with stakeholders (including your manager) and observing yourself, your manager, and your colleagues carefully.
  3. Understand the culture of your organization – by listening, observing, and reflecting on your actions and attitudes relative to others.
  4. Write out your working job description – the one that others need from you, not what you think it is.
  5. Decide if you want to commit to that job. If you do, then make a plan to adjust to what is really expected. If you do not, consider what alternatives there may be, in your organization or somewhere else.

Your Framework (your working job description of what’s essential to your job) Should Explain (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 60):

  • What drives our work? What matters to the organization? To the owners?
  • What are the norms, rules-of-the-road, and operating principles? How do people interact, make decisions, allocate resources?
  • What is your manager responsible for? How are they evaluated?
  • What does your manager need and expect from you? What can you expect from your manager, based on your data?
  • What do your stakeholders need from you? What do you need from them?
  • What is your working job title, which accurately describes your responsibilities, independent of what your organizational title is today?
  • What are your essential priorities?
  • What do you need from your team? What does your team need from you?

“[Y]ou may realize that you are struggling because what is expected and needed by your organization does not fit with your strengths, values, and interests. This will lead to the big decision you have to make . . . Do I stay and commit? Or do I look for something different?” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 60).

Part I [The Disconnect: What Your Organization Wants You to Know (But Hasn’t Told You!) (includes Chapters 1 and 2)] explains what you are doing that interferes with your influence and impact, why that is hurting your job satisfaction, and how to resolve it. We help you identify what distracts you, and why. Once you understand the disconnect between what you are doing and what the organization needs, you can commit to making the changes that will allow you to succeed, flourish and be recognized for doing important work” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part II [The Solution: Discover Your Levers of Influence (includes Chapters 3, 4, 5, and 6] is designed to help you sort out what your boss, your team, and your organization really need from you, both from a business and a cultural perspective” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part III [Plan A: Grow Your Influence and Impact (includes Chapters 7, 8, and 9)] describes the path you take if you want the job you are in. This section takes you through the nuts and bolts of creating a Personal Strategic Plan to implement critical changes to your priorities, tone, and behavior . . .” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 4).

Part IV [Plan B: If You Don’t Want This Job, Find a Better Fit (includes Chapters 10, 11, and 12)] is the path you take if you realize that the real job your organization wants you to do is not what you want or can do. For some people, they really like the organization they work for, but the specific job is a bad fit, or they just can’t find a way to work happily with their manager. For others, this process helps them to realize that both the job they are doing and the context in which they work are not acceptable to them” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 5).

Part V [Helping Others Build Their Influence and Impact (includes Chapter 13)] is “a primer for managers who want guidance on how to coach others to great influence and impact . . . . [It] is designed to help you guide your people toward what you and your organization need from them the most” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 5).

WHAT’S OK BUT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER

The “Key Takeaways” at the end of each chapter is OK but way too short. I would have liked to see a much more comprehensive summary instead of a way-too-brief 3-5 sentences paragraph.

WHAT I DISLIKED

The use of font sizes is very inconsistent and the line spacing is very poor. The font size is too small for the body text and should have been larger. The font size is too large for the chapter title (as in bizarrely large) and should have been much smaller. Also, it would have been better to reverse the font sizing and swap out the sizing use in the References section for the font size used in the body text.

As I thumbed through the physical copy of the Influence and Impact book, (I do this when I first look at a book), I noticed how tightly packed the fonts were. Although a book review should never be about the style and appearance of the words (e.g., font styles & sizes and use of spacing) on the pages of a book (i.e., its “typography”), it’s worth pointing out, however, that typography impacts readability. In Influence and Impact, the small type (or font) size and the tight line spacing combined made it challenging to read.

In fact, the book itself is quite short at 181 pages (not counting References and Index), but it feels much longer and heavier due to its tight layout, smaller font size, and poor use of spacing. I mostly find this layout and typography in college textbooks so I was quite surprised to see it used in a business book. Rather than packing everything so tightly into 206 total pages, it would have been better had the publisher and authors stretched it out to 236 pages by using a larger body text font size, better line spacing, and better layout (translation: make it look less like a college textbook). Strangely, the chapter title font size is HUGE!

This regrettable flaw — the dreadful typography — makes the reader “work” to read it, instead of making it enjoyable to read. I truly hope this will be corrected in future updates. That said, when I focus and block out the distracting layout with its small font sizing and poor line spacing, it’s actually chock-full of goodness!

Indeed, good typography can mean the difference between a visually great reading experience, a mediocre, or even a terrible one. I’ve picked up and quickly put down books before based solely on a quick glance of its layouts, spacing, and fonts — in other words, the typography.

WHAT I LIKED

I absolutely loved Chapter 13. A Primer for Managers. In four pages, Berman and Bradt provided a CliffNotes version (i.e., a short summary) to business managers and leaders on how to execute and apply the actionable insights they shared throughout the book. All business books should have a section like this!

Here are two valuable tips to help their team members improve their influence and impact:

“The first step in improving others’ influence and impact is finding out what their job really is supposed to be. If you take the time, you and your colleagues can tell them most of the information they need. Other information is best obtained by encouraging them to observe what people do, how they respond, who succeeds and who struggles. What are their essential priorities? Are they totally focused on those priorities? What do they need from their team? What does their team need from them?” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 178).

“Help them know the business. To ensure they understand what the organization is all about, give them access to documents, including the organization’s mission, vision, and purpose, business strategies, cultural norms, and the like. It is surprising how few people pay attention to a public company’s financial statements or attend to quarterly reports. This is one of the best ways to help them think about the larger goals and objectives” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 178).

I also liked a few, but not all, of the guest contributors sections (like Leo Flanagan, Hy Pomerance, and Joe Garbus). The stories provided by Flanagan, Pomerance, and Garbus offered real-life examples and further enhanced each of the respective chapters in which they were featured.

Here’s an example. For Chapter 10, Leo F. Flanagan, Jr., Ph.D., shared a great story about “Jim” a VP of Finance, who took a CFO job in Chicago, IL. The catch was that he and his family (including wife and 3 teenagers in high school) lived in Scotch Plain, NJ.

Jim thought he could juggle family priorities with his work priorities but soon discovered that he really struggled to do both. He wanted to be there for his kids for their sporting events and he wanted to be available to his CEO for any urgent meetings. He thought that by taking a “super-demanding job half-way across the country,” he could “still be connected to my kids.” So how did that work out for Jim? “My kids and wife feel I let them down. It turned out that for the CEO ‘getting the job done’ meant being available and focused seven days a week. It didn’t work at all—for anybody.”

After being fired from his CFO role, he had a chance to reset his priorities. “Jim took a job as controller of a pharmaceutical company 40 minutes from home. He invested in rebuilding his relationships with his wife and kids. He got to the office every morning by 7 a.m. to ensure he could leave in time for any of his kids’ events, with the blessing of his CFO and the support of his admin” (Berman & Bradt, 2021, p. 144).

OVERALL

Influence and Impact by Bill Berman and George Bradt is a FANTASTIC book that’s packed with useful and actionable insights. The tips and strategies offered throughout make this book a “must have” for leaders, managers, employees, and those about to enter the workforce. Influence and Impact is great for any professional, at any level (whether you’re an executive, manager, or frontline employee), who want to get a better understanding of what is expected and needed of them. You will gain and exert influence and impact when you’re able to focus on the most essential, mission-critical business and cultural priorities as well as meet the needs and expectations of your managers, stakeholders, coworkers, and teams! The key to your professional success in your organization is to effectively and consistently do the job that is asked of you and to do so in a manner that is needed. In tandem with this is the understanding and development of your influence (the effect you have on others) and your impact (the effect on your manager, your team, and your organization).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Berman, B. (2021, June 21). What Your Organization Really Needs from You: Influence and Impact. https://www.leadershipnow.com/leadingblog/2021/06/what_your_organization_really.html

Berman, B., & Bradt, G. B. (2021). Influence and Impact: Discover and Excel at What Your Organization Needs From You The Most. Wiley.

Disclosure: I received a hard copy of Influence and Impact as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

Book Summary & Review — Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done by Adrian Gostick & Chester Elton

According to Adrian Gostick, one of the main reasons for writing the book had to do with his (now) 25-year-old son, Anthony (Tony) Gostick, who had been struggling with anxiety since high school and had always wanted his dad to write about this topic. Tony soon realized that he wasn’t alone and that many of his peers and even his managers were also feeling anxiety.

As Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, his friend and coauthor, traveled the world talking and working with organizations and their executives, the theme that kept coming up again and again was that of anxiety in the workplace and what leaders can do to help their employees deal with anxiety — how to help (i.e., having the tips & tools) employees feel more supported and more resilient in the workplace. 

The book is organized by eight sources* of anxiety in the workplace, with a chapter for each strategy (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 26):

  • Employees’ uncertainty about the organization’s strategy contending with challenges, and how it affects job for security.
  • Work overload and the need for managers to help balance loads and help prioritize.
  • A lack of clarity about prospects for career growth and development, as well as the need for clarity in everyday work situations.
  • How perfectionism has become the enemy of getting things done.
  • Fear of speaking up, contributing, and debating issues.
  • Feeling marginalized as “others” for women, people of color, those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and religious minorities.
  • Being excluded socially by team members, with the sense of alienation from working remotely an emerging variation of this problem.
  • A lack of confidence and feeling undervalued.

*To get some clarity, I emailed Gostick and Elton to inquire about the citation(s) of these “eight leading sources of anxiety in the workplace.” This was Adrian Gostick’s reply: “Those 8 are our conclusions of leading sources of anxiety in the workplace based on our research and interviews. They are proprietary. It didn’t seem right to use someone else’s list as our conclusion. . .” Within each of the 8 are sources [he’s referring to the hodgepodge of sources in the “Notes” section] to back up the claims. With that said, we aren’t claiming this is an exhaustive list, but our conclusion based on experience, research and interviews.”

**Although I’m disappointed to not have received greater clarification on how these “eight leading sources of anxiety in the workplace” came to be, I do understand The Culture Works’ (a Utah-based global training and consulting company founded by Gostick & Elton) reluctance (like many other private consultancies) to disclose their research data.

At the end of each chapter is a very handy chapter summary.

Chapter 1 The Duck Syndrome – Highlights (no summary page)

“Despite a great deal of coverage in the media about rising anxiety levels, the stigma at work remains potent. Most people aren’t willing to discuss what they’re going through with anyone but their closest family and friends, and often not even with them” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 10).

“Only one in four people who suffer from anxiety say they have talked about it to their boss. The rest? They hide their symptoms. Many have been doing it since their school days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 11). 

*This is not from the book, but I really like Arifeen Rahman’s description of the duck syndrome (below):

“At Stanford the term ‘Duck Syndrome’ describes students struggling to survive the pressures of a competitive environment while presenting the image of relaxed California chill. Imagine a calm duck gliding across a fountain. Underwater, the duck’s feet are paddling furiously – against the terrifying possibility that it may sink or even worse: be revealed as trying too hard” (Rahman, 2019).

Gostick and Elton (2021) say that this Duck Syndrome is alive and well in the workplace. They wrote that, similar to these struggling college students who appear fine, at work, “many people who might seem to be doing fine are, in reality, in danger of going under” (p. 11).

“According to a study by Stanford Graduate School of Business and Harvard Business School professors, workplace stress and anxiety may be a contributing factor in more than 120,000 deaths annually. In short, tens of billions of dollars, massive employee burnout, and the mental and physical well-being of our workforces are all at stake when considering how to mitigate anxiety” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 13).

Gostick and Elton (2021) stated: “we are not suggesting leaders should try to become therapists” (p. 20). However, they contend that, “managers must take responsibility and do what they can to alleviate some of the strains work life is placing on so many of their people” (p. 22).

“Are managers willing to be present with an employee as that person makes sense of their mental health issue? Do they know how far to help without it becoming a counseling session? This is vital knowledge for managers these days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 22).

Good summary of Anxiety at Work:  

“The hopeful news this [Anxiety at Work] book offers is that leaders of teams can adopt a set of eight simple practices we’ve [Gostick and Elton] identified that can greatly reduce the anxiety their people are feeling. Using these practices and the lessons throughout the book will help any leader convey that they genuinely care about those they are privileged to lead—sending them home each night feeling a little more valued, listened to, and included” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 23-24).

“Working to make team members feel understood, accepted, and secure is an extraordinary team-bonding opportunity. Research leaves not the slightest doubt that it’s also a powerful productivity booster. Devoting a little extra time and attention to this new way of managing will pay off in spades, and that is a great anxiety reliever for leaders as well, many of whom are concerned with their own job security” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 28).

In today’s workplaces, the pace of change is intensifying and competition ever-present. Managers will never be able to completely stop their employees from feeling anxious, stressed, or worried. And there’s not much managers can do about the challenges that batter the workplaces (Gostick & Elton, 2021). However, “within our teams, we can go a long way to relieving tensions, providing support, inspiring enthusiasm and loyalty, and creating a safe place for people to spend their days” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 28-29).

Chapter 2 Summary – Lead through Uncertainty (p. 67)

* Uncertainty can trigger various responses in people, often with negative consequences on performance. The most common uncertainty for today’s employees is whether or not a job will last.

* Uncertainty is exacerbated when managers don’t communicate enough about challenges facing their organizations and how those issues may affect their people and their teams.

* A good deal of employee uncertainty is about their own performance and development, i.e., How am doing? and Do I have a future here? By meeting one-on-one regularly to evaluate performance and growth opportunities, leaders can help team members avoid misreading situations while enhancing their engagement and commitment to the organization.

* Leaders can use a set of methods to help reduce uncertainty: 1) make it okay to not have all the answers, 2) loosen your grip in tough times, 3) ensure everyone knows exactly what’s expected of them, 4) keep people focused on what can be controlled, 5) have a bias to action, and 6) offer constructive feedback.

Chapter 3 Summary – Help with Overload (p. 95)

* Leaders often fail to appreciate that constantly demanding more and more work in less and less time will lead to employee frustration, rising anger levels, and eventually anxiety and burnout.

* Managers may believe it is an individual failure when an employee is overwhelmed, and yet more than 90 percent of employees feel burned out at least some of the time. The problem is often organizational.

* Most approaches businesses take to helping people cope with crushing workloads are aimed at fixing the person instead of focusing on underlying issues with the amount of work assigned and with the ways in which employees are managed.

* When employees feel anxiety from overload, managers can start by helping them break work into optimal chunks.

* Other methods to help team members better cope with workload expectations and reduce anxiety levels include: 1) create clear roadmaps, 2) balance loads, 3) rotate people, 4) closely monitor progress, 5) help people prioritize, 6) avoid distractions, and 7) encourage R&R.

Chapter 4 Summary – Help Chart Career Development (p. 124)

“Of course, classes and virtual training in foundational business skills can be quite valuable, but the learning that will most excite employees, and make the most immediate impact on their performance, is about how to tackle the specific challenges they’re facing in their work day-to-day” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 116).

* Research shows younger workers are more eager to move up or out, and more than 75 percent of Gen Zers say they believe they should be promoted within their first year on the job. Creating more steps on the career path can help.

* Some 90 percent of younger workers “highly value” career growth and development opportunities, and organizations that effectively nurture their people’s desire to learn are 30 percent more likely to be market leaders.

* Some 87 percent of millennials ranked job security as a top priority when looking for a job. That is more than likely going to be even higher in the post-pandemic world.

* Following a set of methods can reduce employees’ anxiety about where they’re heading in their careers. They include: 1) create more steps to grow, 2) coach employees about how to get ahead, 3) help employees assess their skills and motivations, 4) use a skill development flow, 5) make learning real-time, 6) tailor development to the individual, 7) carefully calibrate growth opportunities, and 8) encourage peer-to-peer support.

Chapter 5 Summary – Manage Perfectionism (p. 149)

* There are certain jobs when flawless execution is vital. Perfectionism isn’t about a rational quest to get things right when they have to be; it’s a corrosive impulse to appear perfect, and often to push others for flawlessness as well.

* Studies have found perfectionists have higher levels of stress, burnout, and anxiety. They can also spend so much time tinkering or deciding on a course of action that they get little done.

* A key difference between unhealthy perfectionism and healthy striving is being able to define realistic expectations and knowing when to say “that’s good enough.”

* To identify someone who might have perfectionist tendencies, look for those who seek excessive guidance, seem loath to take any sort of risk, and treat most decisions as if they were a matter of life and death. Perfectionists can also tend to become overly defensive when criticized, and they can become preoccupied with their missteps or the mistakes of others.

* A series of methods can help lead those with perfectionist tendencies, including: 1) clarify what good enough is, 2) share the wisdom of innovators, 3) treat failures as learning opportunities, 4) regularly check in on progress, 5) team them up, and 6) discuss the issue openly.

Chapter 6 Summary – Manage Healthy Debate (p. 170)

* Many people today are conflict-avoidant—sidestepping uncomfortable situations and holding back on giving honest feedback.

* The best work groups are places of high trust and high candor, where team members debate to drive problem-solving. When employees are free to speak up and know their voices will be heard, it can increase engagement, enhance psychological safety, and bolster self-confidence and a sense of ownership.

* Leaders facilitate this by encouraging debate in a safe environment. They set ground rules and encourage all voices to be heard, de-escalate quarreling, ask team members to clarify their opinions with facts, and create clear plans and timelines for moving forward.

* Managers can spot employees who may be conflict-averse if they shy away from difficult conversations, try to change the topic or flee the scene when things get tense, get uncomfortable during debates, or resist expressing their feelings or thoughts during meetings.

* Methods that managers can use to coach their employees to find their voices and work through difficult conversations include: 1) address the Issue, Value, Solution, 2) don’t delay, 3) stick to facts, 4) use your words, 5) assume positive intent, 6) have plan, 7) give and take, and 8) get comfortable with the uncomfortable.

Chapter 7 Summary – Become an Ally (p. 188)

* There has been a historic pattern of anxiety in particular groups within the workplace—those too often made to feel like “others.” Of particular concern are women, people of color, those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, members of religious minorities, and those with disabilities.

* Many in these communities must hide their true identities. But when managers create cultures where people feel comfortable being themselves, dramatic performance gains can be unlocked as everyone is able to focus all their attention on work.

* Many leaders do not understand the level of implicit bias that occurs in our work cultures. Microaggressions are biases that reveal themselves in often subtle ways and leave people feeling uncomfortable or insulted. They can take a psychological toll on the mental health of recipients and can lower work productivity and problem-solving abilities.

* Methods to help those who are marginalized feel valued and included in any team include: 1) listen up, 2) sponsor, 3) stand up, and 4) advocate.

Chapter 8 Summary – Build Social Bonds (p. 209)

* Exclusion can be toxic to anxiety levels. Fear of missing out (FOMO) may harm mental well-being since humans have such a strong need to belong. Some 71 percent of professionals say they have experienced some degree of exclusion within their team.

* There is much team leaders can do to spot those who may seem to be left out—all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely: Which person is regularly cut off during group discussions? Who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone? Regular one-on-ones are the best way to understand what’s really going on.

* Leaders can encourage inclusion by ensuring that all team members can contribute in meetings and have their voices heard in a calm and organized manner, buddy new hires up with friendly seasoned employees, and spend time in every meeting recognizing contributions.

* Other methods for helping move a team from exclusion to connection include: 1) build camaraderie, 2) find a common core, 3) foster connections and friendships, 4) provide frequent validation, and 5) include remotes.

Chapter 9 Summary – Build Confidence with Gratitude (p. 226)

* One of the simplest and most effective ways to motivate employees to achieve is by regularly expressing gratitude. Research shows offering positive reinforcement produces impressive boosts in team performance and significantly reduces anxiety levels in team members.

* Leaders don’t express gratitude to their people about work well done anywhere nearly as frequently or effectively as they should.

* High-performing employees are often gratitude sponges and perceive a lack of attention from a manager as a sign that things are not good; silence can cause worry to creep up on even the best of workers.

* Regular expressions of gratitude are like deposits in a Bank of Engagement. They build up reserves for when an employee’s work has to be corrected. Research shows gratitude also helps people develop a greater capacity to handle stress.

* Other practical methods to turn doubts into assurance include: 1) make gratitude clear, specific, and sincere, 2) match gratitude to magnitude, 3) preserve gratitude’s significance, 4) provide gratitude to high-flyers, too, and 5) keep gratitude close to the action.

How Anxiety Fills the Gap

“Leaders often shy away from discussing hard truths. They fear that such a discussion might dishearten their workers or cause them to bolt. And yet, there’s something exhilarating for employees about facing facts head-on. Such inclusion helps people feel like they are being brought into the inner circle to brainstorm solutions to challenges. Ambiguity either prolongs inevitable bad news or widens the trust gap. Or both” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 62).

How to Turn Less into More

“To lessen anxiety, we’ve found some good questions to ask in these individual check-ins include: (1) Do you feel like you can complete the project by deadline without having to work unreasonable hours? (2) Is there anyone else on the team who could help so you could meet the deadline? (3) Is there any part of this project that might be delayed? (4) Do you need any additional training or resources to be successful? (5) What have you learned that we might do differently next time we are up against a task like this?” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 87).

Clear Paths Forward

“If leaders are seeking to retain the best young workers, and reduce unnecessary career anxiety in their people, then addressing concerns about job security, growth, and advancement are vital” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 100).

How “It’s Not Perfect” Can Become “It’s Good, I’ll Move On”

“Jared, you’ve got high standards, just like me. I see that you always try to make sure all the details are attended to and everything is done exactly right. That can be a good thing. Now, as I want you to progress in this organization, I’ll tell you something I had to learn. Focusing on improving things from 95 percent to 100 often bogs down opportunities. It’s easy to get tunnel vision in getting something perfect that can cost more than it does to move on to the next project. Let me give you an example I saw where you might have applied this lesson” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 146).

From Conflict Avoidance to Healthy Debate

“Managers should address mean-spirited tensions head-on, and team members who stir up hostility should be coached. But there is a big difference between hostility and debate” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 152).

In high-performing teams with high trust and high candor, team members welcome debates and report that disagreements and strenuous debates help “drive inventive problem-solving, and can be highly motivating” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 152).

“When managers perceive that a conflict-avoidance issue may exist, they can do a great deal to address it by working with employees to stand up for themselves. They may also help them take time to consider their own opinions before agreeing to anything that might violate their values, and stick to their guns when challenged” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 154).

Becoming an Ally

“As we spoke with individuals in marginalized communities, a few things they wanted managers to understand about addressing bias included: 1) Don’t try to convince a person from a marginalized group of all the things that have gone wrong in your life to better relate to their issues (you were poor, your parents died, you have a learning disorder, etc.); this is not a competition. 2) Don’t ante up by saying that your daughter is gay or that you have lots of Black friends. 3) Be compassionate but don’t be “shocked” by racism or other forms of bias; if you are, you have been actively ignoring what’s been happening because it did not affect you directly. 4) Don’t preach about your “wokeness” to the issue; show it” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 179).

Transform Exclusion into Connection

“There’s actually quite a lot that team leaders can do to encourage inclusion; for instance, looking carefully for anyone on the team who may seem to be left out (all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely), which person is regularly cut off during group discussions, who is regularly chatting with whom, and who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone. By watching, a manager can gain awareness and insight” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 191).

Turn Doubts into Assurance

“One of the most effective ways leaders can combat anxiety is to foster an attitude of gratitude throughout their organizations—not just top-down, but peer-to-peer” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 218).

“When leaders align rewards with the level of achievement, they help those who are anxious make more positive assumptions about their work. For small steps forward, verbal praise or a note of thanks is appropriate, but bigger achievements require a tangible reward presented in a timely manner” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 221).

WHAT I REALLY LIKE

By following the strategies, tips, and techniques provided by Gostick and Elton in Anxiety at Work, leaders will not only become better at reducing the stress and anxiety on their teams and in their employees, but they will also become better leaders. Inherent in many of these suggested practices is the assumption that one is already a capable boss and that these anxiety-reducing practices for leading your team will make you an even better boss. And, if you’re a subpar leader, Gostick and Elton’s recommendations will most certainly help raise your leadership skills.

For example, in Ch. 2, Gostick and Elton wrote (2021, p. 67): “A good deal of employee uncertainty is about their own performance and development, i.e., How am doing? and Do I have a future here? By meeting one-on-one regularly to evaluate performance and growth opportunities, leaders can help team members avoid misreading situations while enhancing their engagement and commitment to the organization.” In Ch. 3, they stated (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 95): “Leaders often fail to appreciate that constantly demanding more and more work in less and less time will lead to employee frustration, rising anger levels, and eventually anxiety and burnout.” In Ch. 6, the authors maintained (p. 170): “The best work groups are places of high trust and high candor, where team members debate to drive problem-solving. When employees are free to speak up and know their voices will be heard, it can increase engagement, enhance psychological safety, and bolster self-confidence and a sense of ownership.” In Ch. 8, Gostick and Elton said (p. 209): “There is much team leaders can do to spot those who may seem to be left out—all the more important when some or all of a team works remotely: Which person is regularly cut off during group discussions? Who doesn’t seem to be interacting with anyone? Regular one-on-ones are the best way to understand what’s really going on.” Finally, in Ch. 9, they declared (p. 226): “One of the simplest and most effective ways to motivate employees to achieve is by regularly expressing gratitude. Research shows offering positive reinforcement produces impressive boosts in team performance and significantly reduces anxiety levels in team members.”

These are all classic management and leadership advice! I LOVE it!

CAUTION/CAVEAT:

As a former mental health professional, I want to make two important points. 

Point Number One: 

There’s an implicit assumption in Anxiety at Work that the “anxiety at work” is work-related and that managers and leaders need to have tips and tools to help their employees who are experiencing anxiety at work. What is very important to understand, however, is that individuals who experience anxiety also experience anxiety in other areas of their lives OUTSIDE of work. 

There was no clearly explained causes of anxiety mentioned in Anxiety at Work (I’m referring to the clinical definition & diagnosis of anxiety). According to the American Psychiatric Association (2017), “the causes of anxiety disorders are currently unknown but likely involve a combination of factors including genetic, environmental, psychological and developmental. Anxiety disorders can run in families, suggesting that a combination of genes and environmental stresses can produce the disorders.” In general, for a person to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the fear or anxiety must: (1) Be out of proportion to the situation or age inappropriate, and (2) Hinder ability to function normally (APA, 2017). 

As Dr. Edmund Bourne (a clinical psychologist who has specialized in the treatment of anxiety disorders and related problems for 30 years) explained in The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (2015, p. 8): “Anxiety is an inevitable part of life in contemporary society. It’s important to realize that there are many situations that come up in everyday life in which it is appropriate and reasonable to react with some anxiety. If you didn’t feel any anxiety in response to everyday challenges involving potential loss or failure, something would be wrong.”

“Anxiety disorders are distinguished from everyday, normal anxiety in that they involve anxiety that 1) is more intense (for example, panic attacks), 2) lasts longer (anxiety that may persist for months or longer instead of going away after a stressful situation has passed), or 3) leads to phobias that interfere with your life” (Bourne, 2015, p. 8).

Point Number Two:  

Seek appropriate mental health help for anxiety disorders (see APA, 2016; APA, 2017; NAMI, 2017). Gostick and Elton (2021) wrote: “for employees feeling anxiety symptoms at any level, referral to a company employee assistance program (EAP) or licensed counselor can be extremely helpful” (p. 20). Anxiety at Work is written with the primary focus on helping managers and leaders aid their employees, rather than providing an individual worker with the tools to cope with anxiety.

If you experience anxiety that is (1) hard-to-control, (2) where you excessively worry about a host of issues—health, family problems, school, money, work—that results in both physical and mental complaints (e.g., muscle tension, restlessness, easily tired and irritable, poor concentration, and trouble sleeping), and (3) you experience it on most days for 6+ months, PLEASE seek appropriate, qualified, and licensed mental health help (see APA, 2016; APA, 2017; NAMI, 2017).

In addition to seeking clinical help, I would strongly suggest reading books that specifically address anxiety, such as:

  • “The Anxiety Toolkit: Strategies for Fine-Tuning Your Mind and Moving Past Your Stuck Points” by Alice Boyes
  • “The Anxiety Skills Workbook: Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry” by Stefan G. Hofmann 
  • “Anxiety Happens: 52 Ways to Find Peace of Mind” by John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert
  • “The Anxiety First Aid Kit: Quick Tools for Extreme, Uncertain Times” by Rick Hanson, Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, Martin N. Seif, Sally M. Winston, David A. Carbonell, Catherine M. Pittman and Elizabeth M Karle
  • “Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry” by Edmund J. Bourne and Lorna Garano

Takeway:

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton’s Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done is a fantastic contribution to the field of management and leadership as well as occupational health psychology (a field of psychology concerned with the health, safety, and well-being of employees, and covers four connected areas: the employee; the job environment; the organizational environment; and the external environment). In Anxiety at Work (2021), Gostick and Elton utilized stories and examples of real managers and their employees “to create a simple guide for managers that they can read very quickly” (p. 25) and included recommended practices that leaders can implement immediately (Gostick & Elton, 2021). Anxiety at Work is an important resource and guide for managers and leaders of teams, functions, and organizations. The tips and practices are great for helping leaders create and maintain a lower-stress work environment.

However, it is important to note that Anxiety at Work is not a guide for those experiencing anxiety at work and in other domains of life. Anxiety at Work is not a replacement for seeking help from a licensed and trained mental health clinician nor can it adequately help employees (on an individual level) better deal with and manage anxiety. The book is written to target the job and the organizational environment (i.e., what managers & leaders can do and need to do), not the individual employee.

With that caveat in mind, I really like Anxiety at Work and highly recommend it for leaders at all levels of an organization.

As Gostick and Elton (2021) wrote, you must acknowledge “the frantic duck-paddling going on under the surface in your team” (p. 227) and “begin to minimize anxiety, offer support for people to work through their feelings, and build resilience for challenges to come” (p. 227). Anxiety at Work helps leaders better understand that mental health and employee well-being are just as important as sales quotas and customer satisfaction.

Best of all, Anxiety at Work provides leaders with practical solutions: (1) to help reduce uncertainty; (2) to help team members better cope with workload expectations and reduce anxiety levels; (3) to reduce employees’ anxiety about where they’re heading in their careers; (4) to lead those with perfectionist tendencies; (5) to coach their employees to find their voices and work through difficult conversations; (6) to help those who are marginalized feel valued and included in any team; (7) to help move a team from exclusion to connection; and (8) to turn doubts into assurance.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2017, January). What Are Anxiety Disorders? https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/anxiety-disorders/what-are-anxiety-disorders

American Psychological Association (APA). (2016, October 1). Beyond worry: How psychologists help with anxiety disorders. https://www.apa.org/topics/anxiety/disorders

Bourne, E. J. (2015). The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (6th ed.). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Bourne, E. J., & Garano, L. (2016). Coping with Anxiety: Ten Simple Ways to Relieve Anxiety, Fear, and Worry (2nd ed.). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Forsyth, J. P., & Eifert, G. H. (2018). Anxiety Happens: 52 Ways to Find Peace of Mind. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2021). Anxiety at Work: 8 Strategies to Help Teams Build Resilience, Handle Uncertainty, and Get Stuff Done. Harper Business.

Hanson, R., McKay, M., Davis, M., Eshelman, E. R., Seif, M. N., Winston, S. M., Carbonell, D. A., Pittman, C. M., & Karle, E. M. (2020). The Anxiety First Aid Kit: Quick Tools for Extreme, Uncertain Times. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Hofmann, S. G. (2020). The Anxiety Skills Workbook: Simple CBT and Mindfulness Strategies for Overcoming Anxiety, Fear, and Worry. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2017, December). Anxiety Disorders. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Anxiety-Disorders

Rahman, A. (2019, July 26). Duck Syndrome. https://www.kqed.org/perspectives/201601138907/duck-syndrome

Disclosure: I received a print copy of Anxiety at Work as a complimentary gift in exchange for an honest review.

What Burnout Is and Why It Isn’t Confined To The Occupational Sphere

What Is Burnout?

Burnout isn’t just being tired or “fed up” with work. “Burnout is far more than feeling blue or having a bad day. It is a chronic state of being out of synch with your job, and that can be a significant crisis in your life” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2). With burnout, a person is no longer able to work (exhaustion) and no longer wants to spend effort at work (distancing). Burnout is characterized by exhaustion, mental distancing, and impaired cognitive functioning, such as poor attention and concentration, and a poor working memory (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

In their book, Banishing Burnout, Leiter and Maslach (2005) wrote that: 

Burnout is lost energy. You are constantly overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2).

Burnout is lost enthusiasm. Your original passion has faded and been replaced by a negative cynicism” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 2).

Burnout is lost confidence. Without energy and active involvement in your work, it’s hard to find a reason to keep going” (Leiter & Maslach, 2005, p. 3).

Burnout has become serious enough that the World Health Organization (WHO, 2019) included it in the 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, though not a medical condition. According to ICD-11: “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

According to psychology professors, Michael Leiter, Christina Maslach, and Wilmar Schaufeli (2009): “burnout is a psychological syndrome in response to chronic interpersonal stressors on the job. The three key dimensions of this response are an overwhelming exhaustion; feelings of cynicism and detachment from the job; and a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment” (p. 90). 

Another definition of burnout is that it is: a work-related state of exhaustion occurring among employees. Burnout is characterized by extreme tiredness, reduced ability to regulate cognitive and emotional processes, and mental distancing. These four core dimensions of burnout are also accompanied by depressed mood and by non-specific psychological and psychosomatic distress symptoms (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

Although there are varying perspectives on the definition of what constitutes burnout, what is common to all definitions is that, “burnout occurs at an individual level; that it is an internal psychological experience involving feelings, attitudes, motives, and expectations; and that it is a negative experience for the individual, in that it concerns problems, distress, discomfort, dysfunction, and/or negative consequences” (Maslach, Leiter, & Schaufeli, 2009, p. 89). 

And while burnout is an individual phenomenon, the impact of burnout can reverberate throughout an entire team or even department. In their book, Anxiety at Work, Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton talk about how work overload can have an effect on not just one individual, but also the entire team: “Allowing overload to escalate into anxiety and burnout can have negative ricocheting effects on an entire work group” (Gostick & Elton, 2021, p. 75).

Symptoms of Burnout

4 Core Symptoms of Burnout:

1. Exhaustion: severe loss of energy that results in feelings of both physical (tiredness, feeling weak) and mental (feeling drained and worn-out) exhaustion. Specific symptoms include; lack of energy to start the new working, feeling completely used-up after a whole day of working, feeling tired quickly even after spending minimal effort at work, and inability to relax after work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

2. Emotional impairment: manifests itself in intense emotional reactions and feeling overwhelmed by one’s emotions. Specific symptoms include; feeling frustrated and angry at work, irritability, overreacting, feeling upset or sad without knowing why, and feeling unable to control one’s emotions at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

3. Cognitive impairment: indicated by memory problems, attention and concentration deficits and poor cognitive performance. Specific symptoms include; difficulties to think clearly and learn new things at work, being forgetful and absent-minded, indecision, poor memory, attention and concentration deficits, and trouble staying focused at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

4. Mental distance: Psychologically distancing oneself from the work is indicated by a strong reluctance or aversion to work. One withdraws mentally – and sometimes even physically – from work and avoids contact with others, for example with customers, clients, and colleagues. Indifference and a cynical attitude are characteristic of mental distance. Little or no enthusiasm and interest for the work exists and one feels that one functions on autopilot (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27).

3 Secondary Symptoms of Burnout:

1. Psychological distress. This refers to non-physical symptoms that are the result of a psychological problem, such as sleep problems, worrying, feeling tense and anxious, feeling disturbed by noise and crowds, and weight fluctuations without being on a diet (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 27-28).

2. Psychosomatic complaints. This refers to physical complaints that cannot be explained by a physical disorder, but are exacerbated by or result from some psychological problem. Examples are, palpitations and chest pain, stomach and intestinal problems, headaches, muscle pains and getting sick often (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 28).

3. Depressed mood. This refers to a gloomy and sad mood and to the inability to experience pleasure. Depressed people feel powerless, suffer from guilt and are disappointed in themselves. Please note that depressed mood is a normal, temporary reaction to disappointment or loss and should be distinguished from mood disorder, which is a psychiatric syndrome (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020, p. 28).

Burnout is caused by an imbalance between high job demands and not enough resources. Issues outside of work as well as personal vulnerability may facilitate the onset of burnout. Burnout also leads to feelings of being incompetent and poor performance at work (Schaufeli, De Witte, & Desart, 2020).

Six Areas of Person-Job Mismatch

Leiter and Maslach (2004) proposed that six areas of job-person mismatch are the critical sources of burnout. From surveys and interviews of more than 10,000 people across a variety of organizations in different countries, Maslach and Leiter (2005) found most person-job mismatches fall into six categories: work overload (too much work, not enough resources); lack of control (micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power); insufficient rewards (not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction); breakdown in community (isolation, conflict, disrespect); absence of fairness (discrimination, favoritism); and value conflicts (ethical conflicts, meaningless tasks).

Both individuals and organizations can use the six-category framework to diagnose which categories are especially troublesome for them, and then to design interventions that target these problem area (Maslach & Leiter, 2005).

According to Maslach (2017), the six positive “fits” to tackle the person-job mismatches and promote engagement and well-being are (1) a sustainable workload; (2) choice and control; (3) recognition and reward; (4) a supportive work community; (5) fairness, respect, and social justice; and (6) clear values and meaningful work.

Burnout Is Not Confined To The Occupational Sphere

Some researchers (e.g., Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014; Hallsten, 1993; Kristensen, Borritz, Villadsen & Christensen, 2005; Pines, Neal, Hammer & Icekson, 2011; Pines & Nunes, 2003) have argued that burnout is not just job-related and should not be confined only to the workplace, and that we need to move away from a work-specific to a generic, cross-domain or context-free approach to better understand burnout (e.g., Hallsten, 1993; Kristensen, Borritz, Villadsen & Christensen, 2005; Pines, Neal, Hammer & Icekson, 2011; Pines & Nunes, 2003). They contend that the fundamental cause of burnout is unresolvable, chronic stress and, as such, burnout can be developed outside of the workplace (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014). “Burnout can only be considered a multi-domain syndrome, given that chronic stress is not a job-restricted phenomenon” (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014, p. 359).

Indeed, even Maslach (2006) has acknowledged that, “Although burnout has been identified primarily as a phenomenon in the world of work, the significance of the social context and interpersonal relationships for burnout suggests that burnout might be relevant to other domains of life” (p. 39). 

Researchers who support burnout as an occupational phenomenon (e.g., Maslach, Schaufeli, & Leiter, 2001; Schaufeli & Taris, 2005; Schaufeli, Desart, & De Witte, 2020) have extended the definition of work to also include athletes, volunteers, and even students. They maintain that because work refers to all structured, goal-directed activities that are mandatory in nature, athletes, volunteers, and students also “work” and, as a result, may also suffer from burnout (Schaufeli, Desart, & De Witte, 2020). 

Other researchers openly support the view that burnout extends beyond and outside the workplace. For example, Mikolajczak, Gross, Stinglhamber, Lindahl Norberg, and Roskam (2020) have presented a case for why parental burnout is distinct from job burnout. These researchers (e.g., Mikolajczak, Gross, & Roskam, 2019) have described parental burnout as an overwhelming exhaustion related to one’s parental role, an emotional distancing from one’s children, and a sense of parental ineffectiveness). There’s also a parental burnout assessment (PBA) in which the parental burnout phenomenon is reconstructed based solely on the testimonies of burned-out parents (Roskam, Brianda, & Mikolajczak, 2018). Although both parental burnout and job burnout share common consequences, such as problematic alcohol use, problem sleeping, somatic complaints, there are specific consequences for job burnout versus parental burnout. Specific consequences for parental burnout include parental neglect and parental violence, while a specific consequence for job burnout includes intent to leave the company.

Another type of burnout is caregiver burnout. “A caregiver can be any relative, partner, friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship with, and provides a broad range of assistance for a child or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition. These individuals may be primary or secondary caregivers and live with, or separately from, the person receiving care” (American Medical Association, 2018).

“Caregiver burnout is defined as a state of physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion that can create negative and unconcerned caregiver attitudes. Caregiver burnout can occur when caregivers don’t get the help or support they need, and when the demands on a caregiver’s mind, body and emotions are overwhelming, leading to fatigue and sometimes hopelesness. Serving as a caregiver for a loved one is often mentally and physically demanding, making it difficult for the one providing care to tend to their own needs. Once the individual begins to feel the effects of burnout, it becomes difficult to care for themselves, as well as the patient in their charge” (American Medical Association, 2018).

Research studies have suggested that family caregivers (also referred to as informal caregiving) of adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia may also suffer from burnout (Almberg, Grafström, & Winblad, 1997; Alves, Monteiro, Bento, Hayashi, Pelegrini, & Vale, 2019; Chan, Cheung, Martinez-Ruiz, Chau, Wang, Yeoh, & Wong, 2021; Yilmaz, Turan, & Gundogar, 2009). James and Paulson (2020) recently developed the Informal Caregiver Burnout Inventory (ICBI), a measure of burnout for informal caregivers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

If we accept that a fundamental cause of burnout is chronic stress (Bianchi, Truchot, Laurent, Brisson, & Schonfeld, 2014; Maslach et al., 2001), and if we agree that chronic stress can exist outside of one’s job or workplace, then “burnout cannot be confined to the occupational sphere because chronic stress is not confined to the occupational sphere” (Bianchi et al., 2014, p. 359). 

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Almberg, B., Grafström, M., & Winblad, B. (1997). Caring for a demented elderly person—burden and burnout among caregiving relatives. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 25(1), 109-116.

Alves, L., Monteiro, D. Q., Bento, S. R., Hayashi, V. D., Pelegrini, L., & Vale, F. (2019). Burnout syndrome in informal caregivers of older adults with dementia: A systematic review. Dementia & Neuropsychologia, 13(4), 415-421.

American Medical Association (AMA). (2018). Caring for the caregiver: A guide for physicians. https://www.ama-assn.org/sites/ama-assn.org/files/corp/media-browser/public/public-health/caregiver-burnout-guide.pdf

Bianchi, R., Truchot, D., Laurent, E., Brisson, R., & Schonfeld, I. S. (2014). Is burnout solely job-related? A critical comment. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 55(4), 357-361.

Chan, C. Y., Cheung, G., Martinez-Ruiz, A., Chau, P., Wang, K., Yeoh, E. K., & Wong, E. (2021). Caregiving burnout of community-dwelling people with dementia in Hong Kong and New Zealand: A cross-sectional study. BMC Geriatrics, 21(261).

Gostick, A., & Elton, C. (2021). Anxiety at work: 8 strategies to help teams build resilience, handle uncertainty, and get stuff done. Harper Business.

Hallsten, L. (1993). Burning out: A framework. In W. B. Schaufeli, C. Maslach & T. Marek (Eds.), Professional burnout: Recent developments in theory and research (pp. 95-113). Taylor & Francis.

James, N., & Paulson, D. (2020). Development of a novel measure of informal caregiver burnout. Innovation in Aging, 4(Suppl 1), 477. 

Kristensen, T. S., Borritz, M., Villadsen, E. & Christensen, K. B. (2005). The Copenhagen Burnout Inventory: A new tool for the assessment of burnout. Work & Stress, 19, 192-207.

Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2004). Areas of worklife: A structured approach to organizational predictors of job burnout. In P. L. Perrewé & D. C. Ganster (Eds.), Research in occupational stress and well-being: Vol. 3. Emotional and physiological processes and positive intervention strategies (p. 91–134). Elsevier Science/JAI Press.

Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. Jossey-Bass.

Maslach, C. (2017). Finding solutions to the problem of burnout. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 69(2), 143-152.

Maslach, C. (2006). Understanding job burnout. In A. M. Rossi, P. Perrewe, & S. Sauter (Eds.), Stress and quality of working life: Current perspectives in occupational health (pp. 37-51). Information Age Publishing.

Maslach, C. & Leiter, M. P. (2005). Reversing burnout: How to rekindle your passion for your work. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 3(4), 42-49.

Maslach, C., Leiter, M. P., & Schaufeli, W. (2009). Measuring burnout. In S. Cartwright & C. L. Cooper (Eds.), The Oxford handbook of organizational well-being (pp. 86-108). Oxford University Press.

Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W. B. & Leiter, M. P. (2001). Job burnout. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 397-422.

Mikolajczak, M., Gross, J. J., & Roskam, I. (2019). Parental burnout: What is it, and why does it matter? Clinical Psychological Science, 7, 1319-1329.

Mikolajczak, M., Gross, J. J., Stinglhamber, F., Lindahl Norberg, A., & Roskam, I. (2020). Is parental burnout distinct from job burnout and depressive symptoms? Clinical Psychological Science, 8(4), 673-689.

Pines, A. M., Neal, M. B., Hammer, L. B. & Icekson, T. (2011). Job burnout and couple burnout in dual-earner couples in the sandwiched generation. Social Psychology Quarterly, 74, 361-386.

Pines, A. M. & Nunes, R. (2003). The relationship between career and couple burnout: Implications for career and couple counseling. Journal of Employment Counseling, 40, 50-64.

Roskam, I., Brianda, M.-E., & Mikolajczak, M. (2018). A step forward in the conceptualization and measurement of parental burnout: The Parental Burnout Assessment (PBA). Frontiers in Psychology, 9, Article 758.

Schaufeli, W. B., Desart, S., & De Witte, H. (2020). Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT)—Development, validity, and reliability. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(24), 9495.

Schaufeli, W. B., De Witte, H. & Desart, S. (2020). Burnout Assessment Tool (BAT) – Version 2.0 Test Manual. KU Leuven, Belgium: Unpublished internal report.

Schaufeli, W. B. & Taris, T. W. (2005). The conceptualization and measurement of burnout: Common ground and worlds apart. Work & Stress, 19, 256-262.

World Health Organization. (2019, May 28). Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases

World Health Organization. (2020). International statistical classification of diseases and related health problems (11th ed.). https://icd.who.int/

Yilmaz, A., Turan, E., & Gundogar, D. (2009). Predictors of burnout in the family caregivers of Alzheimer’s disease: Evidence from Turkey. Australasian Journal on Ageing, 28(1), 16–21.

How to Give Direct and Clear Feedback

From front-line leaders all the way up to C-suite leaders, I have seen, time and time again, how managers have made a mess in delivering feedback to their employees.

In this article, I will:

    • Clarify the difference between coaching and feedback;
    • Highlight and explain the Situation Behavior Impact Model (SBI);
    • Share Brené Brown’s “Engaged Feedback Checklist”; and
    • Wrap up with Dianna Booher’s five feedback tips.

Many managers misunderstand feedback, with most calling it “coaching.” Feedback is not coaching, and it is important to not mistake feedback for coaching (Semple, 2018). There’s a “coaching” model & process and there’s a “feedback” model & process that should be and can be a part of coaching, but this “feedback” can also be standalone model & process.

Those who confuse and fail to differentiate between “feedback” and “coaching” are at risk of delivering ineffective and even destructive “feedback” and cause recipients to recoil whenever they hear the word “coaching.”

International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Here’s my coaching definition, which I like much better, based on an amalgamation from these books: Leading at a Higher Level; Coaching for Performance; You Already Know How to Be Great; and Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching.

Coaching is a deliberate process of using focused conversations to help people to access their best self, remove interference, and free themselves to perform at their highest level. It’s about unlocking people’s potential so they can optimally make decisions, commit to actions, and produce breakthrough results. Effective coaching involves growth and change, whether that is in perspective, attitude, or behavior (Miller & Blanchard, 2010; Whitmore, 2017; Fine, 2010; Bluckert, 2006).

Feedback communicates to others about what their strengths are, specifies which of their skills are valuable to the team and/or organization, and explains to them where you believe they have the ability to change and improve (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999).

“Effective feedback provides the necessary information people need to build on their strengths and to shore up weaknesses. It’s a powerful tool for accelerating learning and for developing mastery” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 7).

Therefore, it is absolutely critical that leaders and managers learn when and how to give effective feedback to subordinates.

When to Give Subordinates Feedback, according to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 11):

    • Often
    • On Time
    • As an Opportunity for Development
    • To Solve a Performance Problem

The Situation Behavior Impact Model (SBI) by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is great feedback model:

    • Situation – Describe the situation. Be specific about when & where it occurred.
    • Behavior – Describe the observable behavior. Don’t assume you know what the other person was thinking.
    • Impact – Describe what you thought or felt in reaction to the behavior.

“Called SBI for short, this simple feedback structure keeps your comments relevant and focused to maximize their effectiveness. Essentially, SBI means you describe the Situation in which you observed the employee, you describe the Behavior you observed, and you describe the Impact of that behavior on you and others present in that situation” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 12).

Here’s one example from CCL (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 12):

Jim, I saw that presentation you made to the Excelsior group
(Situation). I liked how you picked up on their questions. I noticed
that you were able to move out of your prepared presentation to
address their concerns without missing a beat (Behavior). They
were all nodding their heads in agreement when you answered that
question about the delivery time frame. You made me confident that
you were in control of all the material and information. Joel Smythe
told me afterwards that our company seems to have a much better
understanding of Excelsior’s situation than anyone else on their
short list (Impact).

Here’s another example of the SBI method:

    1. Situation: Describe the specific situation in which the behavior occurred. Avoid generalities, such as “Last week,” as that can lead to confusion. Example: “This morning at the 9 a.m. team meeting…”
    2. Behavior: Describe the actual, observable behavior. Keep to the facts. Don’t insert opinions or judgments. Example: “You interrupted me while I was telling the team about the new leadership development initiative,” instead of “You were rude.”
    3. Impact: Describe the results of the behavior. Because you’re describing exactly what happened and explaining your true feelings—not passing judgment—the listener is more likely to absorb what you’re saying. If the effect was positive, words like “happy” or “proud” help underscore the success of the behavior. If the effect of the behavior was negative and needs to stop, you can use words such as “troubled” or “worried.” Example: “I was impressed when you addressed that issue without being asked” or “I felt frustrated when you interrupted me because it broke my train of thought.”

In her book, Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says one of the biggest issues for leaders is having tough conversations:

“We avoid tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback. Some leaders attributed this to a lack of courage, others to a lack of skills, and, shockingly, more than half talked about a cultural norm of “nice and polite” that’s leveraged as an excuse to avoid tough conversations. Whatever the reason, there was saturation across the data that the consequence is a lack of clarity, diminishing trust and engagement, and an increase in problematic behavior, including passive-aggressive behavior, talking behind people’s backs, pervasive back-channel communication (or “the meeting after the meeting”), gossip, and the “dirty yes” (when I say yes to your face and then no behind your back)” (Brown, 2018).

Brown (2018) declares: “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.”

“Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind. Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind. Talking about people rather than to them is unkind” (Brown, 2018).

Brown shares a readiness checklist — Engaged Feedback Checklist — to contemplate before you sit down to give someone feedback.

I know I’m ready to give feedback when (Brown, 2012):

    1. I’m ready to sit next to you rather than across from you.
    2. I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).
    3. I’m ready to listen, ask questions, and accept that I may not fully I understand the issue.
    4. I want to acknowledge what you do well instead of picking apart your mistakes.
    5. I recognize your strengths and how you can use them to address your challenges.
    6. I can hold you accountable without shaming or blaming you.
    7. I’m willing to own my part.
    8. I can genuinely thank you for your efforts rather than criticize you for your failings.
    9. I can talk about how resolving these challenges will lead to your growth and opportunity.
    10. I can model the vulnerability and openness that I expect to see from you.

“[P]sychological safety makes it possible to give tough feedback and have difficult conversations without the need to tiptoe around the truth” (Amy Edmondson, 2012).


Dianna Booher, a communication strategist and author, has some terrific and useful tips on giving feedback. She writes, “The best managers learn how to lead team members to assess their own performance so that feedback flows naturally. As a result, resistance decreases and performance improves” (Booher, 2021).

According to Booher, leaders and managers should try embedding feedback within coaching conversations. She recommends (2021) keeping these steps in mind:

(1) Lead the Person to Assess His or Her Own Performance – You are coaching for improved performance so begin the conversation with open-ended questions. For example (Booher, 2021): “How do you think this last product launch went over with our route drivers? Did you get the sense that they really understand the difference between this new formula and what we had on the market last year?”

(2) Ask About Lessons Learned – Instead of lecturing, ask what your team member has learned. For example (Booher, 2021): “What do you think you’ll do differently with the drivers on the next launch?” (Then listen to them elaborate on changes they already have in mind after self-assessing the outcomes that were less than desirable.)

(3) Acknowledge Their Perspective – If the team member has good self-awareness & self-assessment of their performance or the situation, you can confirm positively what s/he has said (Booher, 2021): “I agree with what you’ve said about…” “I think you’ve identified the trouble spots and have the right approach to correcting them for the next time.” (Notice that you’re giving credit for identifying and correcting their own performance.)

(4) Add Your Own Observations – Booher says that, while acknowledging the team member’s point of view, the leader/manager can share their observations (2021): “I have a few things to add about the situation. “I have a different take on what happened during the launch.” “I have a different viewpoint about why the route drivers walked away from the launch meeting confused. Let me add my observations to what you’ve said.”

(5) Be Direct, Clear, and Optimistic About the Future – Booher advises (2021): “Be direct. You never want to sugarcoat bad news or poor performance. But focus on the future rather than on the past. End the conversation by “looking forward” to the changes or improvements the team member will be making in the process, situation, or performance.”

Key Takeaways:

“To succeed in your leadership role, you must learn how to make feedback a part of developing your subordinates to their full potential. More than that, you must learn how to provide effective feedback that is empowering, not damaging; that is constructive, not debilitating” (Buron & McDonald-Mann, 1999, p. 7).

“Positive feedback will make the recipient feel better, reinforce good behavior, and build confidence. But negative feedback points out improvement opportunities and ways to build competence—and employees remember it longer” (Lane & Gorbatov, 2020).

“A manager’s inability to give feedback in a way that holds employees accountable for their performance, or that effectively delivers the message that their work outcome is poor, will lead to talent drain and drop in productivity overall” (Lane & Gorbatov, 2020).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Bluckert, P. (2006). Psychological Dimensions of Executive Coaching. Open University Press.

Booher, D. (2021, February 16). Coaching With Feedback That Actually Works. https://www.tlnt.com/coaching-with-feedback-that-actually-works/

Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Random House.

Brown, B. (2012). Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Penguin/Gotham.

Buron, R. J., & McDonald-Mann, D. (1999). Giving Feedback to Subordinates. Center for Creative Leadership.

Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). (n.d.). Immediately Improve Your Talent Development with the SBI Feedback Model. https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/hr-pipeline-a-quick-win-to-improve-your-talent-development-process/

Edmondson, A. C. (2012). Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate, and Compete in the Knowledge Economy. Jossey-Bass.

Fine, A. (2010). You Already Know How to Be Great: A Simple Way to Remove Interference and Unlock Your Greatest Potential. Penguin Group.

Lane, A., & Gorbatov, S. (2020, March 30). The Feedback Fallacy. https://www.talent-quarterly.com/the-feedback-fallacy/

Miller, L., & Blanchard, M. H. (2010). Coaching: A Key Competency For Leadership Development. In Blanchard, K. (Ed.). Leading at a higher level (pp. 149-163) (Revised & Expanded Edition). FT Press.

Semple, R. (2018, August 30). Don’t Mistake Feedback for Coaching. https://www.flashpointleadership.com/blog/dont-mistake-feedback-for-coaching

Whitmore, J. (2017). Coaching for Performance (5th ed.). Nicholas Brealey Publishing.

Can video conferencing apps mimic or replace human-to-human connection?

I was contacted by a journalist writing a story about workplace communication, why human beings need human-to-human connection in the office, and whether technology can mimic or replace face-to-face human-to-human connection. She wanted to know if video teleconferencing apps and technologies are getting better at mimicking or even replacing face-to-face human-to-human connection. I am reposting my responses below.

1. Are video teleconferencing apps and technologies capable of replicating and feeding that human connection that you say is so essential to our brains?

As much as we would like to think that human beings are capable of duplicating and mimicking physical human connection, the answer is no. Human beings have not been able to virtually replicate the in-person connection. Perhaps the biggest reason is that, according to social psychologists, our human brains were created and wired to connect and interact with others and to do so in physical proximity to one another.

We can see how, during the COVID-19 pandemic, people were Zoom-fatigued. That is, we “connected” online and virtually—seeing each other’s faces and hearing one another talk—but at the same time feeling that it’s just no where the same as doing so in person. Indeed, researchers have found that the greatest bonding experience actually occurs during in-person interaction rather than by video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging.

2. What are the nonverbal cues that enrich our communication? Why are they so important to connecting and getting work done?

The nonverbal cues that help further enrich human communication include gestures, body language, as well as tone, pauses, inflection, and volume.

According to communications experts, nonverbal communication is important because it tends to be perceived as more believable than verbal communication. For instance, if you say “I’m fine,” but your body language communicates something different (such as you are grimacing, with the corners of your mouth turned down), people will most likely not believe what you told them (your verbal communication) and instead believe your nonverbal communication.

3. Are there times when face-to-face is not necessarily right?

I believe that there may be times when it may not be in the best interests of either or both parties to meet face-to-face. This can be when emotions run extremely high, when there’s protracted interpersonal conflict, or when there’s risk to psychological or physical safety. In these scenarios, a third party mediator might need to step in to de-escalate and diffuse the situation prior to meeting in person.

4. Will the push to recreate human-to-human connection via apps and video conferencing change our brains? Can we find the same kind of psychological connection through online groups like Slack and Facebook groups?

I don’t think our brains will “change” because of the use of apps and video conferencing softwares. The same applies to online group chats such as Slack or Facebook groups. Our minds adapt to a new/different way to communicate but the need to connect—physically—will always be there. As I mentioned in my answer to #1, researchers have discovered that the best and greatest bonding experience happens during in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

Three Leadership Derailing Behaviors

Leaders exhibit common bad habits and researchers have pinpointed specific behaviors that can derail a person’s career (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009). For two great coaching and development guides, consult FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009) and Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017).

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) define derailing behaviors as negative characteristics or flame-out factors that derail an individual’s career. According to the Center for Creative Leadership (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017), “A derailed leader is one who, after having reached a level of success in the organization, is fired, demoted, or involuntarily reaches a career plateau. Before these managers derailed, their organizations saw them as having high potential for advancement, having an impressive track record of results, and holding an established leadership position. But then something happened.”

Statistics about failure or inadequate success experienced by executives in new leadership positions (in the first 18 months) range from 38% to over 50% (Riddle, 2016).

Here are three common leadership derailing behaviors I see in leaders in organizations:

  1. The overwhelming desire to always add their two cents (i.e., their unsolicited opinion) to every discussion (Goldsmith, 2007).
  2. Not listening (Goldsmith, 2007).
  3. Not taking extreme ownership (Willink & Babin, 2017) [Note: I’m including Goldsmith’s “Refusing to express regret” (inability to take responsibility or admit you’re wrong), “Making excuses” (stop making excuses), and Passing the buck” (blaming everyone but ourselves) under the not taking extreme ownership derailing behavior].

Always Adding Your Two Cents

Marshall Goldsmith, a world-renowned executive coach, shared a story where he witnessed this very bad habit of “adding too much value” in action during dinner:

“The two men at dinner were clearly on the same wavelength. One of them was Jon Katzenbach, the ex-McKinsey director who now heads his own elite consulting boutique. The other fellow was Niko Canner, his brilliant protégé and partner. They were plotting out a new venture. But something about their conversation was slightly off. Every time Niko floated an idea, Katzenbach interrupted him. “That’s a great idea,” he would say, “but it would work better if you . . .” and then he would trail off into a story about how it worked for him several years earlier in another context. When Jon finished, Niko would pick up where he left off only to be interrupted within seconds by Jon again. This went on back and forth like a long rally at Wimbledon” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 48).

“Imagine you’re the CEO. I come to you with an idea that you think is very good. Rather than just pat me on the back and say, “Great idea!” your inclination (because you have to add value) is to say, “Good idea, but it’d be better if you tried it this way.” The problem is, you may have improved the content of my idea by 5 percent, but you’ve reduced my commitment to executing it by 50 percent, because you’ve taken away my ownership of the idea. My idea is now your idea—and I walk out of your office less enthused about it than when I walked in. That’s the fallacy of added value. Whatever we gain in the form of a better idea is lost many times over in our employees’ diminished commitment to the concept” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 48-49).

Not Listening

Lombardo and Eichinger (2009) wrote that people who are unskilled at listening tend to cut others off, try to finish other people’s sentences, and interrupt to make a pronouncement or render a solution or decision. As a result, those poor at listening do not learn much from their interactions with others.

Goldsmith worked with a group of executives of one of the world’s most respected research and development organizations that had a problem retaining young talent. They had a very visible and annoying way to show that they weren’t listening.

“During presentations everyone in senior management had developed the annoying habit of looking at their watches, motioning for junior scientists to move it along, and repeating over and over, “Next slide. Next slide.” . . . Have you ever tried to make a presentation while a manager grunted at you and kept telling you to move it along? Well, that’s how the junior scientists at this company felt” (Goldsmith, 2007, p. 87).

Not Taking Extreme Ownership

The best and most concise description of taking ownership is from the book, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win (Willink & Babin, 2017):

“On any team, in any organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world. There is no one else to blame. The leader must acknowledge mistakes and admit failures, take ownership of them, and develop a plan to win. The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission” (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 30).

“The irony, of course, is that all the fears that lead us to resist apologizing—the fear of losing, admitting we’re wrong, ceding control—are actually erased by an apology. When you say, “I’m sorry,” you turn people into your allies, even your partners” (Goldsmith, 2017, p. 84).

“If we can stop excusing ourselves, we can get better at almost anything we choose” (Goldsmith, 2017, p. 79).

“A leader who cannot shoulder the blame is not someone we will follow blindly into battle. We instinctively question that individual’s character, dependability, and loyalty to us. And so we hold back on our loyalty to him or her” (Goldsmith, 2017, p. 94).

I love this quote:

“Be humble to see your mistakes, courageous to admit them, and wise enough to correct them. The most difficult obstacles to remove are the ones that you create for yourself. If you cannot see your mistakes, you cannot fix them.” -Amine Ayad

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Goldsmith, M. (2007). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Hyperion.

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For your improvement: A development and coaching guide (5th ed.). Lominger International.

Riddle, D. (2016). Executive Integration: Equipping Transitioning Leaders for Success. Retrieved from https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/ExecutiveIntegration.pdf

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. St. Martin’s Press.

To Engage and Retain Employees Provide a “Mini” Job Rotation During Employee Orientation


Have you noticed that, in many companies, employees often have no clue what many of the other employees in other functions do to support the overall organization? When you look at how companies typically onboard new employees and the lack of follow-up employee development training, it’s not at all surprising that so many employees struggle with not fully understanding what their colleagues do and how their companies operate.

As a result, these employees, their teams, and leaders unintentionally and detrimentally create and maintain silos, often pitting one or several functions against each other. For example, in one organization, corporate staff and sales staff do not know what it is that each of the respective functions do to support the overall firm. Each group, failing to grasp how interconnected and interdependent they are to one another and the overall organization, operates and wages a daily battle of “us vs. them.” Sadly, they undermine not only their “opponent” but also their own efforts to help themselves and the larger organization.

To improve job learning and experience, why not include a “mini” job rotation as part of a 2-week new employee orientation*?

*NOTE: The new employee orientation must be part of a larger, well-designed onboarding program (Allen, 2020). Good onboarding begins before a person reports for the first day of work and extends to the end of the new employee’s first year (Workforce, 2011).

In a job rotation, an employee (spending anywhere from several weeks to several months) rotates and does different jobs within an organization to increase their breadth of knowledge (Aamodt, 2016; Riggio, 2018). Of course, my recommendation of a “mini” job rotation during the new employee orientation means a much shorter time period.

Companies can pilot a 5-day job rotation (part of a 2-week new employee orientation) in which new employees will rotate into, learn as much about, and practice doing only the most critical jobs/functions that enable the company to operate (e.g., critical roles within Finance, Operations, Human Resources, Sales/Business Development, and Customer Service).

Here’s one example of a 5-day job rotation integrated into a 2-week new employee orientation:

New Employee Orientation – Week 1:

  • 1-day new employee orientation (company history, mission, culture & stories, organizational structure & functions, benefits, payroll, company policies, employee ID, tour of workplace, introducing new employees to senior corporate and team leaders, etc.)
  • 3-day job rotation for Wk. 1 (one day in Finance, one day in Operations, one day in Human Resources)
  • 1-day debrief for Wk. 1 (Q&A); Preparation for Capstone Project Presentations*

New Employee Orientation – Week 2:

  • 2-day job rotation for Wk. 2 (one day in Sales/Business Development, one day in Customer Service)
  • 1-day debrief for Wk. 2 (Q&A); Overall Wk. 1 & 2 debrief; Preparation for Capstone Project Presentations*
  • 1-day Capstone Project Presentations*
  • 1-day New employee orientation wrap-up

*NOTE: This recommendation to do a Capstone Project Presentation is based on advice from Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) regarding using projects to help ensure new hires grasp the contributions that different functions make within the organization. To demonstrate their understanding of the contributions that different functions make, small teams of 3-4 new hires will do a Capstone Project Presentation. The Capstone Project Presentations will require new hires to work in small teams (of 3-4 people) to learn about the work and contributions of the most critical functions and apply that knowledge to resolve a real-life situation that the organization is facing].

“The basic premise behind job rotation is to expose workers to as many areas of the organization as possible so they can gain a good knowledge of its workings and how the various jobs and departments fit together” (Riggio, 2018, p. 195).

“Job rotation is especially popular for managerial training because it allows a manager trainee to experience and understand most, if not all, of the jobs within the organization that his subordinates will perform” (Aamodt, 2016, p. 305).

What many companies so often forget is this: “Job rotation is also commonly used to train nonmanagerial employees. Aside from increasing employee awareness, the main advantage of job rotation is that it allows for both lateral transfers within an organization and greater flexibility in replacing absent workers” (Aamodt, 2016, p. 305). Thus, if one employee suddenly quits or is absent, another person will have already been trained (also known as “cross-training”) to step in to perform the job (Riggio, 2018).

To help employees satisfy their need for growth and challenge, one of the easiest and most common things organizations can do is provide job rotations (Aamodt, 2016). “Research has shown that job rotation not only increases learning, but it also has positive effects on employees’ career progression and development” (Riggio, 2018, p. 195). Another benefit of job rotation is that it can “alleviate the monotony and boredom associated with performing the same work, day in and day out” (Riggio, 2018, p. 267).

Eichinger, Lombardo, and Ulrich (2004) cautioned that if the goal is to introduce employees to on-the job knowledge, targeted training (i.e. training as a student) is more effective than job rotations. And, “If the goal is really to understand the contributions that different functions make, then projects are far and away the most powerful source of how those skills are applied to real-life situations” (Eichinger, Lombardo, & Ulrich, 2004, p. 329-330).

In addition, rather than simply offering a traditional orientation that highlights only job requirements and information about the company or one that’s focused solely on the elements of the organization that foster pride, orientation that is focused on new employees’ personal strengths and how they can bring them to their work results in lower turnover and greater customer satisfaction (Levy, 2017). Obviously, this approach requires not only time and effort, but also dedicated staff, cost, and resources devoted to ensuring that the employee orientation experience (part of a larger onboarding program) and “mini” job rotation are well-designed and implemented (e.g., having a mentor, internal trainer, or supervisor/trainer at each step of the job rotation plan [Heathfield, 2019]).

It’s important to note that, while there are many great benefits to having a job rotation, there are also some things to consider. According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article: “Job rotation may increase the workload and decrease productivity for the rotating employee and for other employees who must take up the slack. This may result in a disruption of work flow and a focus by line managers on short-term solutions to correct these problems” (SHRM, 2020). Another factor to consider is cost — “costs associated with the learning curve on new jobs, including time spent learning, training costs and errors that employees often make while learning a new job” (Campion, 1996).

So, with these cautions in mind, let’s return to job rotation benefits. Researchers have discovered that “people who are starting out in their careers typically are more eager to demonstrate their willingness to learn, to advance and to take on increasing responsibilities to enhance their skill development. And, overall, they have more to learn and benefit more from rotation experiences” (Campion, 1996). Thus, it makes sense to incorporate a “mini” job rotation into the employee orientation period.

Takeaway: If planned well and done correctly, a “mini” job rotation (during the new employee orientation) can result in tremendous benefits for the new employees, for the teams and departments they are joining, and for the larger organization. This includes exposure to different business areas [for the individual, team, and organization]; fresh perspectives to existing roles [for the team(s), department(s), and organization]; acceleration of professional development [for the individual, team, and organization]; enhancement to recruiting and retention [for the team and organization]; and career satisfaction, involvement and motivation in one’s career [for the individual].

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2016). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Allen, T. (2020, April 2). The Key Difference Between Employee Onboarding and Orientation. Retrieved from https://trainingindustry.com/articles/onboarding/the-key-difference-between-employee-onboarding-and-orientation

Campion, L. (1996, November 1). Study Clarifies Job-rotation Benefits. Retrieved from https://www.workforce.com/news/study-clarifies-job-rotation-benefits

Eichinger, R. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Ulrich, D. (2004). 100 things you need to know: Best people practices for managers & HR. Lominger Limited.

Heathfield, S. M. (2019, June 5). 6 Keys to Successful Job Rotation. Retrieved from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/keys-to-successful-job-rotation-1918167

Levy, P. E. (2017). Industrial/organizational psychology: Understanding the workplace (5th ed.). Worth Publishers.

Riggio, R. E. (2018). Introduction to Industrial/Organizational Psychology (7th ed.). Routledge.

Robert Half. (2016, May 27). Job Rotation for Your Staff: Why Letting Go Could Mean Holding On. Retrieved from https://www.roberthalf.com/blog/management-tips/job-rotation-for-your-staff-why-letting-go-could-mean-holding-on

SHRM [Society for Human Resource Management] (2020). How do I implement a job rotation program in my company? Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/hr-qa/pages/whatisjobrotation.aspx

Workforce. (2011, September 7). Dear Workforce Who Has a Good Blueprint for Creating an Onboarding Program? Retrieved from https://www.workforce.com/news/dear-workforce-who-has-a-good-blueprint-for-creating-an-onboarding-program

What You Should Know About Leadership Development Training

I’ve spent more than a decade working in three related and intersecting fields: Training, Learning & Development, and Leadership Development. One can certainly make a case that these all fall under Talent Development. In my current role, I am a Leadership Development Manager & Advisor. I partner with senior leaders and top decision-makers on ways to improve human behaviors in the workplace and on how to make people and organizations more effective (e.g., leadership development, training & development, etc.). I’m involved in developing and implementing key initiatives, training, and programs to create and sustain a high-performing organization. Finally, I’m often tasked with developing, designing, and delivering leadership development training.

I want to talk about some common issues and challenges in leadership development training. I’m sharing best practices drawn from various resources and lessons learned from my own experience working within organizations in the hope that it will help you avoid missteps and prevent catastrophes as you design and execute leadership training in your own organizations.

The Biggest Challenge Leaders In Organizations Face Today

Based on my experiences and observations, one of the biggest challenges leaders in organizations face today is how to recruit, develop, and sustain leaders in the company, and how to ensure that there’s a pipeline of leaders who will be able to move into leadership roles. The need for this is what all organizations experience or face, which is the need to have effective leadership, not only at the very top, but also at the mid-level and front-line level of the organization.

Leader Development, Leadership Development, and Leadership Training

Leader development focuses on developing individual leaders whereas leadership development focuses on a process of development that inherently involves multiple individuals (e.g., leaders and followers or among peers in a self-managed work team) (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Sturm, & McKee, 2014).

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) defines leadership development as “formal and informal training and professional development programs designed to assist employees in developing leadership skills” (SHRM, 2020).

Leadership training programs are programs that have been designed to enhance leader knowledge, skills, abilities. They include all types of leader, managerial, and supervisory training/development programs and/or workshops (Lacerenza, Reyes, Marlow, Joseph, & Salas, 2017).

“Leader development is broadly defined as the expansion of a person’s capacity to be effective in leadership roles and processes. For organizations, developing leaders includes enhancing their performance in current roles, improving their ability to carry out the tasks of leadership in ways congruent with changing organizational realities, and, for some, expanding their capacity to take on higher positions” (McCauley, Kanaga, & Lafferty, 2010, p. 29).

Three Mistakes about Leadership Training

The first and biggest mistake is not doing a needs assessment. Too many organizational leaders blindly dive in and begin developing a leadership training program without ever doing a needs assessment. They think that once you have someone or some team design a leadership development program that it will automatically—by sheer willpower and wishful thinking—become successful just because it was created. Leadership development does not work in a vacuum or silo. It has to be a part of an organization’s DNA and corporate culture and mindset. The leadership training program is but one event that must be part of a larger strategic plan to grow and sustain leaders for the company’s current and future needs.

The second mistake is a tendency to try to cram too much content into the training and expecting participants who attend the leadership development program to instantly become an instant expert or a “leader” (i.e., meeting all the objectives of the program) once the program ends. In some ways, they treat it like a hot dog eating contest — the faster and more you consume in the allotted time the better. Instead of a seamless, connected, and well-organized program, what results is often a confusing and disjointed hodgepodge of courses and sessions.

The third mistake is failing to evaluate the leadership training program. One of the fears to training evaluation is that evaluating will yield unwanted or unfavorable information about the training program (e.g., audience, design, delivery, presenters, instructional contents, etc.). Another fear to evaluating is struggling with when to evaluate and how to isolate the effects of training. However, rather than fearing evaluation, we should think of it in this manner: “Training evaluation provides a way to understand the investments that training produces and provides information needed to improve training. . . Training evaluation provides the data needed to demonstrate that training does offer benefits to the company” (Noe, 2017, p. 249).

We’ll delve into more details about evaluation in the Training Evaluation section.

Leadership Training

“[E]vidence suggests that [leadership training] improves learning, transfer, and organizational outcomes by up to 29% (Lacerenza et al., 2017). Thus, not only do these programs affect leaders participating in the programs (i.e., by increasing learning and their ability to utilize concepts on the job, which is known as transfer), but they also influence desired subordinate outcomes as well (e.g., subordinate job satisfaction, turnover; Lacerenza et al., 2017)” (Lacerenza, Marlow, Tannenbaum, & Salas, 2018, p. 521).

Researchers have suggested that “leadership training developers should pay close attention to the desired outcome (e.g., organizational results, transfer, learning) because leadership training programs may be more effective for some than others. While leadership training typically shows positive results for affective learning and affective transfer, they tend to be even stronger for cognitive learning, cognitive transfer, skill-based learning, and skill-based transfer . . . [W]hen designing a leadership training program, it might be more beneficial to include (and evaluate) cognitive and/or skill-based content” (Lacerenza, Marlow, Tannenbaum, & Salas, 2018, p. 522).

Key Questions Leaders Should Ask About Training (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012):

Steps to Effective Training (Davies, 2007)

[For information on how to develop and implement a coherent training strategy, consult The Training Manager’s Desktop Guide (2nd ed.) by Eddie Davies]

Step one: Identify the training need
Instead of jumping in and solving the immediate problem, you need “to investigate to identify the true cause. This will help you decide if the problem is one that can be solved by training or will other remedies be more effective” (Davies, 2007, p. 101).

Step two: Design/choose the training/development intervention
Influences on the design of training to consider include: Training facilities available (space and equipment); time available; type of trainee; organization’s culture; learning objectives; skills of trainer; principles of learning; group size; budget (Davies, 2007).

Step three: Implement the event
“Senior management will need to be seen to be backing the programme. In addition to the customary chief executive’s letter of support, try to ensure that all senior managers that are due to attend come on the early courses. . . . In addition to gaining the explicit commitment of senior managers you will also need to make sure that the immediate line managers of the participants are also involved in the process. They will form an important role in raising trainee’s expectations before they attend. An equally essential activity will involve them in de-briefing the trainees when they return to work. This discussion should focus on how the new learning can be applied to make a real difference to both the individuals and organization’s performance” (Davies, 2007, p. 108-109).

Step four: Follow-up the training/development
“Training does not start and end in the training room. It is a widely reported phenomenon that whilst trainees learn in the classroom they sometimes fail to translate their learning back to the workplace. . . [Y]ou should also be thinking about this transferability of skills as part of the overall design. Individual sessions should end with time for reflection and review, and the participants should return to work with an action plan they can discuss with their managers” (Davies, 2007, p. 109).

Step five: Evaluate the outcome
“This final stage will involve you in going back to the start of the training cycle. The whole process was started because someone identified a need that could best be addressed through training. For the training department to survive and prosper it must show that it has been of benefit by providing the solutions in an efficient, effective and economical way” (Davies, 2007, p. 110).

Training Evaluation

An area in the leadership training space that requires particular attention is training evaluation or, rather, the lack of or inadequate measurement of leadership development training. As mentioned earlier, one of the fears and obstacles to training evaluation is deciding when to evaluate and how to isolate the effects of training (Kraiger, 2002). Another fear, often understood but not openly discussed, “for not conducting more rigorous evaluations is that the training function may have everything to lose and nothing to gain from the data” (Kraiger, 2002, p. 340).

Two strategies for increasing the impact of training evaluation practices (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012):

(1) Begin training evaluation efforts by clearly specifying one or more purposes for the evaluation and should then link all subsequent decisions of what and how to measure to the stated purposes. STEP: Clearly specify the purpose of evaluation. ACTION: Determine what you hope to accomplish by evaluating the training and link all subsequent decisions back to the purpose (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

(2) Use precise affective, cognitive, and/or behavioral measures that reflect the intended learning outcomes. STEP: Consider evaluating training at multiple levels. ACTIONS: (a) Consider measuring reactions, learning, behavior, and results. (b) Use precise affective, cognitive, and/or behavioral indicators to measure the intended learning outcomes as uncovered during the needs assessment (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

As Kraiger (2002) explained: The art of training evaluation springs from knowing why. What’s the purpose for evaluation (is it for decision making, feedback, and/or marketing)? How will the results be used to make decisions affecting training courses or the training function?

We need to know what to measure but to also be able to place it into a larger context in which success indicators and reasons why the evaluation is being conducted are considered.

The training evaluation outcomes table (Table 6.1) from the Noe textbook (2017) is helpful. Training outcomes are grouped into six categories: reaction outcomes, learning or cognitive outcomes, behavior and skill-based outcomes, affective outcomes, results, and return on investment.

“Table 6.1 shows training outcomes, the level they correspond to in Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model, a description of each of the outcomes and how they are measured, and the question that each outcome can help answer. Kirkpatrick’s original evaluation model included only four levels (reaction, learning, behavior, and results) but recent thinking suggests a fifth level, return on investment (ROI), is necessary to demonstrate the financial value of training. Both level 1 and level 2 outcomes (reactions and learning) are collected at the completion of training, before trainees return to the job. Level 3 outcomes (behavior/skills) can also be collected at the completion of training to determine trainees’ behavior or skill level at that point. To determine whether trainees are using training content back on the job (i.e., whether transfer of training has occurred), level 3, level 4, and/or level 5 outcomes can be collected. Level 3 criteria can be collected to determine whether behavior/skills are being used on the job. Level 4 and level 5 criteria (results and return on investment) can also be used to determine whether training has resulted in an improvement in business results, such as productivity or customer satisfaction” (Noe, 2017, p. 252).

“A useful taxonomy of content and design dimensions for assessment was provided by Lee and Pershing (1999), and is shown in Exhibit 11.1. The exhibit lists ten potential assessment dimensions, along with the specific purpose for the dimension (what is to be learned, and how that information is useful), and sample questions” (Kraiger, 2002, p. 344).

Avoiding Leadership Training Mistakes

One important tip to always remember is this: Not all participants who attend leadership development training will be successful after training and this is to be expected. The reason is because of two things:

(1) The motivation, attitudes, and expectations of the learner are absolutely critical to training effectiveness (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). If an employee is unmotivated to learn, doesn’t believe in their own abilities, and is not goal-oriented during training then the chances of this employee learning and applying the knowledge and behaviors taught will be negligible (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

(2) The support and encouragement from the employee’s supervisor is also key to training success. Research shows that one of the biggest determinants to whether training is successful or not is the amount and degree to which each participant’s manager will provide support and offer a chance to practice once the participant is back in his/her role after training (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012). So be sure to ask and have the answers to these post-training questions: (a) How much support and encouragement will they get from their managers/supervisors once they return to their roles after training? (b) Will there be on-the-job training to further support their growth?

It’s very demoralizing for an employee to return from leadership development training to a boss who doesn’t support, encourage, or provide an opportunity for that employee to put into practice the things he or she learned in leadership development training. Indeed, one of the major reasons employees leave an organization is due to the lack of growth and advancement opportunities (Branham, 2012).

Therefore, make sure that the culture of the overall organization and within each department is one that values, supports, and encourages growth of each employee. I would recommend surveying leaders and employees throughout your organization about the amount and level of support they believe they get for training and employee development learning from the overall organization and from within their own teams and departments.

Conducting a “PreMortem” Exercise

A great way to anticipate problems, prior to implementing a leadership development program, is to use what’s called a PreMortem. The purpose of a PreMortem is “to find key vulnerabilities in a plan” (Klein, 2004, p. 98). In a PreMortem, the group tries to anticipate a plan’s weaknesses through the simulations of different disaster and failure scenarios. The group’s job is to then find “ways to counter the weaknesses they have pinpointed” (Klein, 2004, p. 99).

“PreMortem begins with the assumption that the plan has failed. The attitude of complacency and the false sense of security is punctured, at least temporarily, and is replaced by an active search aimed at preventing trouble later on” (Klein, 2004, p. 101).

The PreMortem is designed to provide a safe “format that supports a productive critique of a plan” (Klein, 2004, p. 99). In a PreMortem, the team members independently list everything that worries them about a new plan or project. This method challenges the complacency of the group which can sometimes masquerade as harmony (Klein, 2014).

The PreMortem is used in a project kickoff meeting. The project team has reviewed the plan the members developed. “In the PreMortem exercise, the team is told to imagine that it is now some time in the future — say 6 months from now. We are looking in a crystal ball, and what we see is terrible. The plan has been a disaster. Each person in the room has the next two minutes to write down all the reasons he/she can think of to explain what went wrong. Once the two minutes are up, the facilitator captures what the team members wrote down — a blueprint for failure” (Klein, 2015).

“As a by-product of using the PreMortem exercise, team members will become better at mentally simulating how a plan or project is likely to play out. They will learn from each other about ways that plans can fail, and thereby increase the patterns they can recognize and their mental models, which in turn strengthens their intuitions. These skills enable people to produce better plans and avoid pitfalls” (Klein, 2004, p. 99).

Leader Self-Development

There are various ways to develop a person’s leadership capacity. One type of leader development is leader self-development. “Leader self-development refers to activities that leaders take upon themselves in order to develop their leadership capacity” (Simmons, 2017).

Here’s something to think about:

“Although learning and training are related, they are not the same. Some training fails to produce any learning, and a great deal of learning occurs outside of training. Learning is a desired outcome of training—a process of acquiring new knowledge and behaviors as a result of practice, study, or experience. It involves relatively permanent changes in cognition, behavior, and affect” (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012, p. 77).

What this means is that, even after a weeklong “training” program, a person might not “learn” much or even anything at all. A trainee’s motivation, attitudes, and expectations strongly influence training effectiveness (Tannenbaum & Yukl, 1992). What’s more, only 7 to 9 percent of skill acquisition comes from formal training. Instead, leaders (both formal and informal) are key factors in learning—as they greatly influence what people actually do on the job. Obviously, trainees must continue to learn on the job after they’ve attended “training” (Salas, Tannenbaum, Kraiger, & Smith-Jentsch, 2012).

Self-development is learning beyond the classroom and individuals who commit to this learning mindset will grow as a leader (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017).

Leader Development Is Personal Development

“[A]ll people can learn and grow in ways that make them more effective in the various leadership roles and processes they take on” (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010, p. 3). Leader development is about the process of personal development that improves leader effectiveness (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010).

I like the Center for Creative Leadership’s view that leader development is synonymous with personal development (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010): “developing the individual capacities needed for effective leadership—such as self-management, social skills, and work facilitation capabilities—is synonymous with what is often labeled ‘personal development'” (McCauley, Velsor, & Ruderman, 2010, p. 26).

A suggestion I share with leaders (when they seek my advice about self-improvement) is to choose what they want to work on and focus on just that one thing or two things. You don’t need to be perfect and you don’t need to be everything to everybody. You just need to be you, not a “perfect” you, just a “better” you.

“You can’t set goals for every leadership competency you want to develop. Narrow your goals to those that you feel passionate about, those that benefit you or can reduce mistakes, and those that are not too difficult to achieve but still stretch your abilities” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 349).

Marshall Goldsmith (2007) has similar advice: “Pick one issue that matters and ‘attack’ it until it doesn’t matter anymore. If you’re a bad listener, choose to become a better listener—not the best listener in the world” (p. 192-193).

Takeaway: Everyone in an organization — from rank-and-file employees to mid- and senior-level, and C-suite members — needs to understand that leadership development is self-development and requires taking an honest and humble examination of yourself. Leader self-development means adopting a “learning beyond the classroom” mindset. Remember, you do not need to be a “perfect” you, just a “better” you. Each of us must continually learn, own up to our mistakes, acknowledge that we do not know enough, and accept that part of learning means to change something about ourselves, even changing something we don’t think needs changing.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Branham, L. (2012). The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave (2nd ed.). AMACOM.

Davies, E. (2007). The Training Manager’s Desktop Guide (2nd ed.). Thorogood Publishing.

Day, D. V., Fleenor, J. W., Atwater, L. E., Sturm, R. E., & McKee, R. A. (2014). Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory. The Leadership Quarterly, 25(1), 63-82.

Goldsmith, M. (2007). What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Hyperion.

Klein, G. (2004). The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency.

Klein, G. (2014). Different Tactics for Making Discoveries: Each path to insight calls for its own techniques. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/seeing-what-others-dont/201403/different-tactics-making-discoveries

Klein, G. (2015, October 21). The Pro-Mortem Method: Creating a blueprint for success. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/seeing-what-others-dont/201510/the-pro-mortem-method

Kraiger, K. (2002). Decision-based evaluation. In K. Kraiger (Ed.), Creating, implementing, and maintaining effective training and development: State-of-the-art lessons for practice (pp. 331-375). Jossey-Bass.

Lacerenza, C. N., Marlow, S. L., Tannenbaum, S. I., & Salas, E. (2018). Team development interventions: Evidence-based approaches for improving teamwork. American Psychologist, 73(4), 517-531.

Lacerenza, C. N., Reyes, D. L., Marlow, S. L., Joseph, D. L., & Salas, E. (2017). Leadership training design, delivery, and implementation: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(12), 1686-1718.

McCauley, C., Kanaga, K., & Lafferty, K. (2010). Leader Development Systems. In E. V. Velsor, C. D. McCauley, & M. N. Ruderman (Eds.), The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development [3rd ed.] (pp. 29-61). Jossey-Bass.

McCauley, C. D., Velsor, E. V., & Ruderman, M. N. (2010). Introduction: Our View of Leadership Development. In E. V. Velsor, C. D. McCauley, & M. N. Ruderman (Eds.), The Center for Creative Leadership Handbook of Leadership Development [3rd ed.] (pp. 1-26). Jossey-Bass.

Noe, R. A. (2017). Employee Training and Development (7th ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Salas, E., Tannenbaum, S. I., Kraiger, K., & Smith-Jentsch, K. A. (2012). The science of training and development in organizations: What matters in practice. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(2) 74-101.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Center for Creative Leadership Press.

SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management). (2020). Developing Organizational Leaders. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/toolkits/pages/developingorganizationalleaders.aspx

Simmons, M. J. (2017). Leader self-development: An emerging strategy for building leadership capacity. [Doctoral dissertation, Kansas State University]. K-State Research Exchange. https://krex.k-state.edu/dspace/handle/2097/38200

Tannenbaum, S., & Yukl, G. (1992). Training and Development in Work Organizations. Annual Review of Psychology, 43, 399-441.

3 Reasons Physical Offices & Face-to-Face Meetings Are Not Going Away

The traditional, physical office is not going away any time soon despite advances in technology allowing people to work remotely, either at a home office, coworking space, virtual office, or another remote location (such as a coffee shop, library, or bookstore). Similarly, face-to-face meetings will not disappear, even though we can use email, phone, text, or virtual conference calls to conduct business meetings.

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic reignited the debate about remote work, with some suggesting that it will be the new normal even after COVID-19 (Verbeemen & D’Amico, 2020).

There are 3 reasons why remote work will not be the new normal and why physical offices and face-to-face meetings will stick around:

  1. The reactive response of companies to initiate a temporary work-from-home solution resulted in a bad experience to long-term remote work.
  2. Companies won’t invest time or money to address remote work structurally in their organizations.
  3. Our brains are wired to connect with others because humans have a need for meaningful social connection.

Reason #1 – Companies’ Haphazard Response to Initiate a Temporary Work-From-Home:

Shifting the workforce to remote work as a haphazard and forced reaction to COVID-19 will leave a bad taste in many people’s mouths about their experience working remotely. This GitLab article, titled “What Not to Do When Implementing Remote” is a fantastic resource:

“Remote work isn’t something you do as a reaction to an event — it is an intentional approach to work that creates greater efficiency, more geographically and culturally diverse teams, and heightened transparency.

What is happening en masse related to Coronavirus (COVID-19) is largely a temporary work-from-home phenomenon, where organizations are not putting remote work ideals into place, as they expect to eventually require their team members to resume commuting into an office.” -GitLab

In a Forbes article titled, “Remote Work Advocates Warn Companies About COVID-19 Work-From-Home Strategies,” Laurel Farrer wrote: “all of this unexpected remote work adoption has telecommuting experts concerned instead of celebrating.”

Reason #2 – Companies Not Willing to Invest Time & Money:

Most companies are not investing and will not invest time and money to tackle remote work structurally in their organizations.

Verbeemen & D’Amico (2020) wrote that remote work “will only be a real success if companies start tackling remote working structurally.” Organizations must secure the infrastructure for remote work and implement remote work in a structural way:

“Companies that see salvation in a fast adoption of tools without structural adjustments, risk a loss of efficiency and frustration among employees and stakeholders. It is not enough to simply provide the necessary infrastructure and tools. Some companies already had the infrastructure and tools available at the start of the crisis, but are only now realizing their full potential. Tools are important, but a successful migration also requires leadership, clear guidelines and real commitment” (Verbeemen & D’Amico, 2020).

Here are some findings:

  • At a global level: 56% of global companies allow remote work, but 44% of global companies don’t allow remote work (Owl Labs Global State of Remote Work Report 2018).
  • At a company level: Only 30% of senior managers feel their organization is well prepared for the rise of remote work (Future Positive Report).
  • At a leadership level: While 82% believe that leaders in the new economy will need to be digitally savvy, less than 10% of respondents strongly agree that their organizations have leaders with the right skills to thrive in the digital economy (The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age).
  • At a worker level: 38% of remote workers and 15% of remote managers received no training on how to work remotely (Owl Labs State of Remote Work Report 2019).

Werk (a people analytics company) conducted a comprehensive study [The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study] on the state of flexibility in corporate America. “According to [the] research, there is a significant gap between the supply and demand of workplace flexibility. 96% of employees in the U.S. workforce need some form of flexibility at work, yet only 42% have access to the type of flexibility they need, and only 19% have access to a range of flexible options. This gap is even more pronounced for women, where only 34% have access to the flexibility they need.”

Even though organizations are becoming aware that they need to adopt a more human-centric view, one that supports the employees’ needs (e.g., remote work, wellness programs, etc.), “innovation in terms of how the workplace and jobs are structured has been slow. If companies are going to truly adapt, stay nimble, and poise themselves for growth in the Human Era, they must reconsider the fundamentals of how jobs are designed and how, where, and when work gets done” (The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study Report).

In the Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work Report 2019, remote employee managers were asked about their biggest challenges and concerns when it came to managing their remote employees. Here’s what they said — They are most concerned about reduced employee productivity (82%), reduced employee focus (82%), lower employee engagement and satisfaction (81%), and whether their remote employees are getting their work done (80%).

Somewhat troubling in that Owl Labs’ State of Remote Work Report 2019 was what remote managers said were their least concerns: Managers are least concerned with employee loneliness (59%), the career implications of employees working remotely (65%), employees overworking (67%), and difficulty managing them (68%).

Gallup research suggests there are three areas in which managers struggle to engage their remote workers (Mann, 2017):

  1. Not recognizing or praising good work.
  2. Not talking to remote workers about career goals and personal growth.
  3. Not providing opportunities to connect with coworkers.

“While remote work is a valid strategy to maintain business continuity in times of crisis like the outbreak of COVID-19, suddenly allowing remote work with no clear policy or processes in place will not have the same positive outcomes as investing adequate resources into preparing leaders and employees for success in a remote environment.” -Tammy Bjelland, CEO Workplaceless

What I see happening—and I believe this trend will continue—is a semi-hybrid company [in which most employees are co-located/on-site and a handful who work remotely] that uses a semi-flexible schedule approach requiring significant time onsite [for co-located employees] and some time offsite/remote. In this semi-flexible schedule approach, organizations require most of their workforce to work and attend meetings onsite but will allow some leaders and staff (at the discretion and whim of their managers) the flexibility to occasionally work and/or attend meetings remotely.

Reason #3 – The Human Brain is Wired to Connect to Others:

The third and my strongest argument why remote work won’t be the new normal is that human beings have an innate and basic need for in-person interactions and the bias toward and preference for face-to-face interactions.

A Futurestep poll of 1,320 global executives in 71 countries found that 61% of senior managers think telecommuters are not as likely as conventional office workers to be promoted, despite the fact that over three-quarters also think teleworkers are equally productive as (42%) or more productive than (36%) their office-dwelling colleagues (Vickers, 2007 citing Bridgeford). Managers might recognize that teleworkers are productive, but they are still accustomed toward face-to-face interactions.

Indeed, remote workers are at risk of getting lower performance evaluations, smaller raises and fewer promotions (even if they work just as long and hard) due to what is called, “passive face time” or the notion of just being “seen” in the workplace even if we don’t interact with anyone in the office (Elsbach & Cable, 2012).

Face-to-face meetings are crucial to business success (Goman, 2016). Even those who make a case for remote work must concede that, “collaborating face-to-face probably is better than collaborating remotely” (Clancy, 2020). When extensive collaboration is required, remote work “may be less productive than colocation [where coworkers are physically clustered together in the same physical workplace]” (Clancy, 2020).

Michael Massari, Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer, shared some sage advice about the value and advantage of face-to-face meetings:

“No matter what industry you work in, we are all in the people business. Regardless of how tech-savvy you may be, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to capture the attention of participants, engage them in the conversation, and drive productive collaboration.” -Michael Massari (Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer)

Contrary to the belief that making a phone call saves time over a face-to-face meeting, Massari said this:

“If I have to go outside my division to ask for resources from someone I don’t know, I can usually get what I need in a five-minute in-person conversation. If I have to rely on a phone call, it is going to take over 30 minutes to explain who I am, why my request is important, and why the other person should help me. That’s because it is so much faster and easier to establish trust when people physically meet.” -Michael Massari (Caesars Entertainment’s Senior Vice President of National Meetings and Events and Chief Sales Officer)

Researchers have found that, “people tend to overestimate the power of their persuasiveness via text-based communication, and underestimate the power of their persuasiveness via face-to-face communication.” (Bohns, 2017). As a matter of fact, a face-to-face request is 34 times more successful than an email (Bohns, 2017).

In a survey of 760 business executives conducted by Forbes Insights in June 2009, respondents were asked to choose the meeting method that was most conducive to fostering a certain business action or outcome. “Executives preferred face-to-face meetings when the decision-making process was fluid, requiring the kind of give-and-take typical of complex decisions and sales” (Forbes, 2009).

“Surprisingly given the advances in information technology, CEOs today spend most of their time in face-to-face meetings. They consider face-to-face meetings most effective in getting their message across and obtaining the information they need. Not only do meetings present data through presentations and verbal communications, but they also enable CEOs to pick up on rich nonverbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and mood, that are not apparent to them if they use e-mail or Skype” (Rothaermel, 2016, p. 43).

Beyond the business desire to close a deal, “the benefits of in-person social interaction—from bonding with co-workers to using time at the pool or café to cement a client relationship—are among the more subtle, less measurable advantages executives cited” (Forbes, 2009).

The COVID-19 pandemic and the importance and need for social distancing and remaining indoors and away from others exacerbated our experiences of cabin fever, isolation, and loneliness.

Research has provided consistent evidence linking social isolation and loneliness to worse cardiovascular and mental health outcomes (Leigh-Hunt, Bagguley, Bash, et al., 2017). Indeed, “social isolation [not being alone but one’s experience of feeling lonely] has an impact on health comparable to the effect of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, obesity, or smoking (Cacioppo & Patrick, 2008, p. 5).

Although people claim that their goal is to be able to work from home, when they actually have to do their work from home, those individuals reported higher levels of stress (Scott, 2020). For a great article on what’s stressful about working from home (e.g., lack of structure; lots of distractions; difficulty setting boundaries; social isolation; and lack of focus) see How to Handle the Stress of Working From Home.

“Those who work at home may find that the solitude can be a double-edged sword. It is, of course, easier to focus when you’re in your own home with no co-workers coming by your desk to chat at random times. But while this solitude can feel blissful at times, when we have no mandate for social interaction during the workday—when we don’t automatically run across people outside of those we live with—we can become lonely before we realize it” (Scott, 2020).

As evidenced, during the COVID-19 pandemic, by the boredom, loneliness, and isolation—with some people even going so far as paying money to join virtual Zoom parties (starting at $10 and going up to $80 for a private room in Club Quarantee to virtually party alongside Instagram-famous DJs and burlesque dancers)—human beings desire, indeed we need, human connections, and in particular in-person interaction and connection.

There’s value in face-to-face interaction & collaboration. Human beings crave human connection and interaction. “[O]ur brains are wired to connect with other people” (Lieberman, 2013, p. x). Lieberman says human beings are wired in a way such that our well-being depends on our connections with other people. “We depend on the most complicated entities in the universe, other people, to make our food, pay our rent, and provide for our general well-being” (2013, p. 238).

“Everything we have learned about the social brain tells us that we are wired to make and keep social connections, that we feel pain when these connections are threatened, and that our identity, our sense of self, is intimately tied up with the groups we are a part of” (Lieberman, 2013, p. 248-249).

But these interactions are not just about the number of people you spend time with. Rather, these connections need to satisfy our need to have close, satisfying relationships. Indeed, “loneliness is typically rooted in the quality rather than the quantity of social interaction: Lonely people spend plenty of time with others, but they do not come away from these interactions feeling satisfied” (Baumeister & Bushman, 2014, p. p. 410).

Loneliness is a state of mind and causes us “to feel empty, alone, and unwanted. People who are lonely often crave human contact, but their state of mind makes it more difficult to form connections with other people.” (Cherry, 2020).

Experts contend that humans are social creatures and we function better when we are around other people (DiGiulio, 2018). Even more strongly, a case can be made that our need to connect with others is as strong and fundamental as our need for food and water (Cook, 2013). Physical connection between humans is so strong that the power of touch can even create an analgesic, painkilling effect (Lamothe, 2018).

During this COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to foster relational connection to curb the rise of loneliness (Stallard & Stallard, 2020). “Research suggests that the majority of individuals today lack sufficient social connection. This connection deficit may exacerbate the negative effects of stress and diminish physical and emotional resilience that people will need to fight the COVID-19 virus” (Stallard & Stallard, 2020).

In his TEDx Talk, neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman said: “Our urge to connect and the pain we feel when this need is thwarted, is one of the seminal achievements of our brain that motivates us to live, work, and play together. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if you can’t connect with other people nothing will come of it. You can’t build a rocket ship by yourself.”

“To the extent that we can characterize evolution as designing our modern brains, this is what our brains were wired for: reaching out to and interacting with others. These are design features, not flaws. These social adaptations are central to making us the most successful species on earth.” (Lieberman, 2013, p. 9).

According to social psychologists, our need for affiliation or connection to others is universal and all human beings have this need. “Some individuals claim that they have little or no need for affiliation—for connections to other people. But research findings indicate that even such persons really do have affiliation needs. How do we know that’s true? When such people learn that they have been accepted by others, both their moods and self-esteem increase. That would only be expected to happen if such acceptance satisfied a basic need for affiliation. . . . In short, all human beings—even people who claim otherwise—have strong needs for affiliation—to feel connected to others. They may conceal these needs under a mask of seeming indifference, but the needs are still there no matter how much such people try to deny them” (Baron & Branscombe, 2012, p. 218).

Researchers examined the emotional experience of connectedness between pairs of close friends in digital (text, audio, and video) versus in-person environments. They recruited 58 female university students aged 18-21 years (consisting of 29 pairs of close female friends). Although adolescent and emerging adults’ digital communication is primarily text-based, the researchers discovered that the greatest bonding actually occurs during in-person interaction, followed by video chat, audio chat, and instant messaging (Sherman, Michikyan, & Greenfield, 2013).

“Despite our remarkable ability to utilize tools and technologies to improve our lives in many ways, humans are constrained by the evolutionary context in which human social interaction developed” (Sherman, Michikyan, & Greenfield, 2013).

Takeaway: Traditional physical offices and face-to-face meetings are here to stay and remote work will not be the new normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. There are three reasons why. First, most people’s introduction to and experience with remote work occurred as a direct, but reactive response of companies to initiate a temporary work-from-home solution. Second, most companies will not be spending the time and money to tackle remote work structurally in their organizations. Third, the human brain is wired to connect with other people and human beings have a need for meaningful social connection. It’s a beautiful, defining quality of being human.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Baron, R. A., & Branscombe, N. R. (2012). Social Psychology (13th Ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). Social Psychology and Human Nature (3rd Ed.). Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Bloomberg & Lhooq, M. (2020, April 14). People are paying real money to get into virtual Zoom nightclubs. https://fortune.com/2020/04/14/zoom-nightclubs-virtual-bars-video-calls-coronavirus/

Bohns, V. K. (2017, April 11). A Face-to-Face Request Is 34 Times More Successful Than an Email. https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-face-to-face-request-is-34-times-more-successful-than-an-email

Cacioppo, J. T., & Patrick, W. (2008). Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection. W. W. Norton & Company.

Cherry, K. (2020, March 23). The Health Consequences of Loneliness. https://www.verywellmind.com/loneliness-causes-effects-and-treatments-2795749

Clancy, M. (2020, April 13). The Case for Remote Work. Economics Working Papers: Department of Economics, Iowa State University. 20007. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/econ_workingpapers/102

Cook, G. (2013, October 22). Why We Are Wired to Connect. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-we-are-wired-to-connect/

Cuncic, A. (2020, March 27). How to Cope With Loneliness During the Coronavirus Pandemic. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-cope-with-loneliness-during-coronavirus-4799661

DiGiulio, S. (2018, January 9). In good company: Why we need other people to be happy. https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/good-company-why-we-need-other-people-be-happy-ncna836106

Doherty, C. (2020, May 2). What Is Coronavirus (COVID-19)? https://www.verywellhealth.com/coronavirus-overview-4783291

Elsbach, K., & Cable, D. M., & Sherman, J. W. (2010). How passive ‘face time’ affects perceptions of employees: Evidence of spontaneous trait inference. Human Relations, 63(6), 735-760.

Farrer, L. (2020, March 5). Remote Work Advocates Warn Companies About COVID-19 Work-From-Home Strategies. https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurelfarrer/2020/03/05/ironically-remote-work-advocates-warn-companies-about-covid-19-work-from-home-strategies/#536739222051

Forbes. (2009). Business Meetings: The Case for Face-to-Face. Forbes Insights. https://images.forbes.com/forbesinsights/StudyPDFs/Business_Meetings_FaceToFace.pdf

Fritscher, L. (2020, April 23). Cabin Fever Symptoms and Coping Skills. https://www.verywellmind.com/cabin-fever-fear-of-isolation-2671734

Fuller, J. B., Wallenstein, J. K., Raman, M., & de Chalendar, A. (2019, May). Future Positive Report: How Companies Can Tap Into Employee Optimism to Navigate Tomorrow’s Workplace. BCG, Harvard Business School.

GitLab. What not to do when implementing remote: don’t replicate the in-office experience remotely. https://about.gitlab.com/company/culture/all-remote/what-not-to-do/

Goman, C. K. (2016, March 11). The Immeasurable Importance Of Face-To-Face Meetings. https://www.forbes.com/sites/carolkinseygoman/2016/03/11/the-immeasurable-importance-of-face-to-face-meetings/#440d18934937

Lamothe, C. (2018, January 3). Let’s touch: why physical connection between human beings matters. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/jan/03/lets-touch-why-physical-connection-between-human-beings-matters

Lieberman, M. D. (2013). Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Oxford University Press.

Lieberman, M. D. (2013, September 19). The social brain and its superpowers – TEDxStLouis. https://youtu.be/NNhk3owF7RQ

Leigh-Hunt, N., Bagguley, D., Bash, K., et al. (2017). An overview of systematic reviews on the public health consequences of social isolation and loneliness. Public Health, (152)157-171.

Mann, A. (2017, August 1). 3 Ways You Are Failing Your Remote Workers. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/236192/ways-failing-remote-workers.aspx

Owl Labs. 2018 Global State of Remote Work. https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2018

Owl Labs. The State of Remote Work Report. https://www.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work

Owl Labs. [New Research] 2019 State of Remote Work. https://www.owllabs.com/blog/2019-state-of-remote-work

Ready, D. A., Cohen, C., Kiron, D., Pring, B. (2020, January). The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age: Reimagining What It Takes to Lead.

Rothaermel, F. T. (2016). Strategic Management (3rd Ed.). McGraw-Hill Education.

Scott, E. (2020, March 17). How to Handle the Stress of Working From Home. https://www.verywellmind.com/the-stress-of-working-from-home-4141174

Sherman, L. E., Michikyan, M., & Greenfield, P. M. (2013). The effects of text, audio, video, and in-person communication on bonding between friends. Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, 7(2), Article 3. https://doi.org/10.5817/CP2013-2-3

Stallard, M. L., & Stallard, K. P. (2020, March 26). COVID-19 Is Coinciding With a Loneliness Epidemic. https://www.govexec.com/management/2020/03/covid-19-coinciding-loneliness-epidemic/164153/

Verbeemen, E., & D’Amico, S. B. (2020, April 9). Why remote working will be the new normal, even after COVID-19. https://www.ey.com/en_be/covid-19/why-remote-working-will-be-the-new-normal-even-after-covid-19

Vickers, M. (2007). Adapting to Teleworker Trends. American Management Association’s Moving Ahead Newsletter, 2(10). http://www.amanet.org/training/articles/Adapting-to-Teleworker-Trends.aspx

Werk. The Future is Flexible – Werk Flexibility Study. https://werk.co/documents/The%20Future%20is%20Flexible%20-%20Werk%20Flexibility%20Study.pdf

Workplaceless. (2020, May 1). Preparing for Emergency Remote Work. https://www.workplaceless.com/blog/emergency-remote-work

Pygmalion Effect – A Leader’s Attitude and Expectation Set the Tone

In the book, Extreme Ownership, Leif Babin (a U.S. Navy SEAL officer who was a SEAL instructor overseeing the Junior Officer Training Course in the Naval Special Warfare Training Center) shared a story about the performances of two boat crews during Hell Week. Boat Crew II (which dominated and had a strong leader) and Boat Crew VI (which came in last in almost every race and had an indifferent and inexperienced leader). A SEAL senior chief officer (one of the SEAL instructors) suggested that they swap out the boat crew leaders from the best and worst crews and see what happens. The turnaround was stunning: “Boat Crew VI, the same team in the same circumstances only under new leadership, went from the worst boat crew in the class to the best” (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 48-49).

As Babin wrote (Willink & Babin, 2017, p. 49): “How is it possible that switching a single individual—only the leader—had completely turned around the performance of an entire group? The answer: leadership is the single greatest factor in any team’s performance. Whether a team succeeds or fails is all up to the leader. The leader’s attitude sets the tone for the entire team. The leader drives performance—or doesn’t. And this applies not just to the most senior leader of an overall team, but to the junior leaders of teams within the team.”

This is a classic example of the Pygmalion Effect. 

The APA Dictionary of Psychology (VandenBos, 2007) defines Pygmalion effect as: “a consequence or reaction in which the expectations of a leader or superior engender behavior from followers or subordinates that is consistent with these expectations: a form of self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, raising manager expectations of the performance of subordinate employees has been found to enhance the performance of those employees” (p. 868).

“The idea here is that if an employee feels that a manager has confidence in him, his self-esteem will increase, as will his performance” (Aamodt, 2010, p. 330). Indeed, leaders often get the performance they expect from their employees.

In a classic Harvard Business Review article (originally published in 1969, reprinted in 1988), Livingston wrote (1988, p. 122): 

  • What managers expect of subordinates and the way they treat them largely determine their performance and career progress.
  • A unique characteristic of superior managers is the ability to create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill.
  • Less effective managers fail to develop similar expectations, and as a consequence, the productivity of their subordinates suffers.
  • Subordinates, more often than not, appear to do what they believe they are expected to do.

“[S]uperior managers have greater confidence than other managers in their own ability to develop the talents of their subordinates” (Livingston, 1988, p. 126). Superior managers don’t give up on themselves and they definitely do not give up easily on their subordinates (Livingston, 1988).

“Managers not only shape the expectations and productivity of subordinates but also influence their attitudes toward their jobs and themselves. If managers are unskilled, they leave scars on the careers of young people, cut deeply into their self-esteem, and distort their image of themselves as human beings. But if they are skillful and have high expectations, subordinates’ self-confidence will grow, their capabilities will develop, and their productivity will be high” (Livingston, 1988, p. 130).

Takeaway: Leadership is, singularly, the most crucial factor in a team’s performance. What managers expect of their subordinates and the way they treat them significantly determine their performance and career progress. Superior managers create high performance expectations that subordinates fulfill. The best managers have confidence in themselves and in their ability to develop the talents of their subordinates.

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Aamodt, M. G. (2010). Industrial/organizational psychology: An applied approach (6th ed.). Wadsworth.

Livingston, J. S. (1969/1988). Pygmalion in management. Harvard Business Review, 66(5), 121-130.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2007). APA dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association.

Willink, J., & Babin, L. (2017). Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win. St. Martin’s Press.

Book Review – Compass: Your Guide For Leadership Development And Coaching


[From CCL’s description of the book]: An essential book on leadership development and coaching, Compass is the go-to reference to help you—and the people you develop—provide the leadership needed in any circumstance to galvanize teams, groups and entire organizations. It is ideal for leaders and managers looking to develop competency in themselves and others. A vital guide for training and development professionals—both inside an organization and external consultants— use Compass as a coaching tool and a blueprint for leader development plans.

Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) is a top-ranked, world-renowned leadership development provider. It has nearly 50 years of experience working with tens of thousands of organizations in more than 160 countries across 6 continents, helping more than a million leaders at all levels.

Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017) is similar to FYI: For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009). Both are coaching & development guides. However, beyond the fact that both books left in blank chapters as placeholders because “those numbers are reserved for future editions” (2017, p. vi), the similarities end there.

A major difference and one that I really appreciate is how CCL’s Compass titles and groups the various sections versus how Korn & Ferry’s FYI titles and groups theirs.

The major sections in FYI (5th ed.) include:

    • Unskilled – The “before picture” shows where you stand against the target.
    • Skilled – The “after picture” gives you a target of what success looks like when a competency or skill is done well.
    • Overused Skill – The possible negative consequences of using a skill too much or with too much force.
    • Some Causes – Common reasons why people struggle with this particular leadership competency
    • The Map – Why the competency is important.
    • Some Remedies – 10 tips/remedies for building the competency.
    • Some Develop-in-Place Assignments – Job tasks that require application of certain competencies. There’s almost always a develop-in-place assignment that you can select in your current job to address your development need.

The major sections in Compass are:

  • Overview – Provides context to why the competency is important, what effects its mastery can produce, and the consequences of not developing the competency.
  • Leadership in Action – Tells a story drawn from real-life accounts of leaders displaying their skill in the competency area.
  • What High Performance Looks Like – Lists descriptive words and phrases for how leaders appear to others when performing the competency well.
  • What’s in Your Way? – Presents common obstacles to development.
  • Coach Yourself – Poses reflective questions designed to spur thinking about the areas of focus in which the competency can be developed
  • Improve Now – Are quick changes” for developing skills.
  • Developmental Opportunities – Tactics and suggestions for developing skills.

In Compass, each competency starts off on a positive note with the “What High Performance Looks Like” section (leaders who are skilled in this competency will do these things). FYI, on the other hand, starts off negatively by drawing the reader’s attention to the top section in each competency called, “Unskilled” (leaders who are unskilled in this competency will do these things).

I find it much more helpful to know the positive skills & behaviors (in Compass) I should be striving for in order to improve myself rather than see a long list of undesired behaviors & skills (in FYI) that I should be avoiding.

Compass offers a lot of content (that’s well-organized and more interesting to read than FYI) for each competency chapter. I especially like the “What High Performance Looks Like” section, the “What’s in Your Way?” section, the “Coach Yourself” section, and the “Improve Now” section.

Compass is divided into four parts:

  1. The Fundamental Four: CCL believes that there are four competencies every leader needs to develop – communication, influence, learning agility, and self-awareness.
  2. Competencies for Impact and Achievement: These are 48 additional competencies derived from CCL research and practice.
  3. Career Derailers: Five career derailers that CCL research has identified as damaging to careers and what you can do to avoid derailing your career.
  4. What’s Next: Is a guide to setting development goals based on a CCL approach.

Whereas FYI is written and reads like a series of “lists,” Compass is written in a narrative style and reads more like a short blog post or article for each competency, making it much more interesting and easier to digest and recall. I gave a hard copy of the FYI book (a 3rd edition) to a good friend of mine, but never told him to “read” it, only to use it as a reference guide whenever he needs it (either for his own development or the development of his team). For CCL’s Compass book, I would highly recommend that you actually sit down and read through the competency chapters.

  • Korn & Ferry’s FYI (5th edition), features 67 Competencies*, 19 Career Stallers* and Stoppers, and 7 Global Focus Areas.
  • CCL’s Compass contains 52 Competencies and 5 Career Derailers.

Interesting factoid: Mike Lombardo worked at the Center for Creative Leadership for 15 years. Lombardo collaborated with Bob Eichinger and Morgan McCall on the book, Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job. Lombardo and Eichinger later started their own consulting firm, Lominger (which produced the FYI book). Lominger was later acquired by Korn & Ferry.

*Both the Competencies and the Career Stallers & Stoppers used in the FYI book came, in part, from studies at the Center for Creative Leadership (Lombardo & Eichinger, 2009).

For a comparison, I selected the decision making competency. Compass calls it “decision making” while FYI labels it “decision quality.” In the overview section of the competency on decision making, Compass offers a nice overview and links it to Captain “Sully” Sullenberger and the 208-second decision-making process he took to safely land the disabled US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. In the “Leadership in Action” section, Compass provides a more detailed account of what happened to Flight 1549 that led to Captain Sullenberger’s quick and decisive decision making on January 15, 2009.

In the “What High Performance Looks Like” section of Compass, descriptions for how a leader appear to others when performing the decision making competency well include:

Leaders who make their decisions using sound judgment:

  • grasp the crux of an issue despite having ambiguous information
  • accurately differentiate between important and unimportant issues
  • are quick learners
  • can quickly set priorities
  • have the courage to make decisions without full information

In the “What’s in Your Way?” section, Scisco, Biech, and Hallenbeck (2017) write:

“Leaders who don’t base their decisions on sound judgment put themselves, their teams, and possibly their organizations at risk. Those negative outcomes are even more likely when a leader’s judgement is compromised by a weak ethical stance or when a leader simply lacks the courage to decide to act–even without complete information” (p. 162).

Review the following list and note the items that you believe might be holding you back from becoming a better decision maker (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 162):

  • You don’t like to ask for input from others but prefer to go it alone.
  • You fall prey to “analysis paralysis”–incessantly poring over information and approaches without making progress.
  • You value complicated solutions over simple, elegant ones.
  • You’re uncomfortable with ambiguity and anxious about making decisions without full information.
  • Once you’ve made a decision, you insist it’s the right one even in the face of contrary evidence.

In the “Coach Yourself” section of Compass, Scisco, Biech, and Hallenbeck (2017) advise asking yourself these questions:

  • “Do you make decisions quickly or do you delay for fear of getting it wrong?”
  • “How comfortable are you in ambiguous situations?”
  • “How do you react in a crisis?”

Another competency that both Compass and FYI share is Interpersonal Savvy.

In examining the Interpersonal Savvy competency chapter in FYI, I saw a laundry list of questions and advice that sounded more like a lecture. The exception is “The Map” section which offers a nice write-up of each competency. In my opinion, two of the biggest weaknesses of the FYI book are: (1) There’s a lack of a narrative writing style (like in “The Map” section) and often the writing is rather choppy, and (2) The recommendations (called “Remedies”) are overly repetitive. (e.g., “Be a better listener. Interpersonally skilled people are very good at listening. They listen to understand and take in information to select their response. They listen without interrupting.”).

Contrast this with the Compass book. In the Interpersonal Savvy competency chapter, listen is mentioned just twice (under What High Performance Looks Like – “listen well” and under What’s in Your Way – “you prefer to talk rather than listen”).

In the overview section of the Interpersonal Savvy competency in Compass, the authors write:

“You might have great ideas and be highly accomplished, but if you struggle to connect with other people you won’t be successful leading them. You need interpersonal skills to recognize and assess what others need. These skills involve not only listening to others, but also include noticing social cues that communicate how others are thinking and feeling, even if they don’t say so outright” (Scisco, Biech, & Hallenbeck, 2017, p. 261).

In the “What’s in Your Way?” section of the Interpersonal Savvy competency, Scisco, Biech, and Hallenbeck (2017) write:

“If you struggle to develop interpersonal savvy, you might not pick up on cues to how others are thinking and feeling until small misunderstandings grow into problems and conflicts. Others may not feel personally connected to you and may avoid coming to you with issues or may hesitate to give you helpful feedback” (p. 263).

Here’s what a competency chapter looks like in Compass. Note: I took screenshots of the Learning Agility competency chapter in a Google Books preview since I couldn’t get a good photo without bending and/or breaking the spine of my hard copy.

Summary: I never thought I would say this, but I have just found a worthy successor to my FYI book! Backed by research and practice from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), a top-ranked, world-renowned provider of leadership development, Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching is an incredibly useful and instantly actionable book. If you are an individual contributor, a leader or manager, or a consultant or coach, you will find the “What High Performance Looks Like” section, the “What’s in Your Way?” section, the “Coach Yourself” section, and the “Improve Now” section to be especially relevant to helping you determine the skills you need to improve or the skills you want to develop in others. The layout and design, along with the decent font size and use of icons, make reading and locating information in the Compass book effortless. Finally, the real-life stories of leaders demonstrating their skills in one of the competency areas (in the “Leadership in Action” section) make Compass truly enjoyable to read!

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Lombardo, M. M., & Eichinger, R. W. (2009). FYI: For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching (5th ed.). Minneapolis, MN: Lominger International.

Scisco, P., Biech, E., & Hallenbeck, G. (2017). Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership Press.

Disclosure: I purchased a hard copy of Compass: Your Guide for Leadership Development and Coaching on my own.

How to Manage Better by Matching Leadership Style to Development Level

“Oversupervising or undersupervising—that is, giving people too much or too little direction—has a negative impact on people’s development. That’s why it’s so important to match leadership style to development level” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 76).

I was eating at a sandwich shop about a week ago. It was still too early for lunch but since I was hungry and they happened to be opened, I went inside. The staff was busy preparing for the busy day and, even though they weren’t officially opened yet, they allowed me to go ahead and placed my order since I was using a credit card.

I got my sandwich and decided to sit and eat inside the restaurant. While I was there, the manager was busy talking to a visitor (from what I could gather, it sounded like an interview). At one point, one of the staff informed the manager that they were expecting a huge order of sandwiches and that she would need his help in order to get all the orders prepped and ready for delivery.

The manager quickly told the employee to just do it by herself. This brought up feelings of anger and resentment from the employee, as evidenced by her yelling at the manager:

“You’re a f***king, a**hole! I’m just one person and you expect me to do everything by myself and it’s not fair!”

Noticing that there was one customer in the restaurant (me), the manager quietly shot back, “It’s your job so just do it.”

As I headed out the door, I looked at the young lady and wished her a nice day. Of course, that was too late at that point because her entire day had been ruined because of this very poor interaction with her supervisor.

Obviously, no direct report or employee should ever talk to a manager in that manner or vice versa. But their interactions reflected at least three things. First, it tells me that this is not the first time that the employee has been allowed to speak like that. Second, it demonstrates that the manager uses a command and control style of management, wherein he (the boss) barks orders and expects his staff to just do it. In this manager’s mind, he’s the boss, he tells his staff what to do, and they carry out his orders. Third, and finally, it shows that the manager only uses the one leadership style that he knows to lead and manage his staff.

In Leading at a Higher Level (2010), Blanchard and his co-authors wrote (p. 76), “To bring out the best in others, leadership must match the development level of the person being led.”

In the Situational Leadership II model, there are two dimensions to leadership style:

    1. Directive Behavior—setting goals; telling and showing people what to do, when, and how to do it; and providing frequent feedback on results
    2. Supportive Behavior—listening, facilitating self-reliant problem solving, encouraging, and asking for input

Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II (SLII®) teaches leaders to diagnose the needs of an individual or a team and then use the appropriate leadership style to respond to the development needs of the person and the situation. The model is based on the belief that if a leader can develop the talent to skillfully diagnose an employee’s development level on a specific goal or task, then he or she can decide, what directive or supportive behaviors are needed to develop that employee. Once the employee’s development level is diagnosed, the leader then matches his/her leadership style to that development level for that task. A matching leadership style helps individuals move through the development continuum from enthusiastic beginner to disillusioned learner, to capable but cautious performer to self-reliant achiever.

Effective leadership occurs when leaders match their style to the competence and commitment of the followers. Effective leaders are those who can recognize what followers need and then adapt their own style to meet those needs. For individuals at

    • D1 (low competence/high commitment)—use a Directing (S1) leadership style.
    • D2 (low to some competence/low commitment)—use a Coaching (S2) leadership style.
    • D3 (moderate to high competence/variable commitment)—use a Supporting (S3) leadership style.
    • D4 (high competence/high commitment)—use a Delegating (S4) leadership style.

There are four leadership styles: Directing, Coaching, Supporting, and Delegating. Each style is a different combination of directive and supportive behavior.

    • S1—Directing = high direction/low support
    • S2—Coaching = high direction/high support
    • S3—Supporting = high support/low direction
    • S4—Delegating = low direction/low support

The four leadership styles differ in three ways: the amount of direction the leader provides, the amount of support the leader provides, and the amount of associate involvement in decision making.

To determine what is needed in a particular situation, a leader must evaluate her or his followers and assess how competent and committed they are to perform a given goal. Based on the assumption that followers’ skills and motivation vary over time, situational leadership suggests that leaders should change the degree to which they are directive or supportive to meet the changing needs of followers.

Back to my story about the upset employee who was yelling at her boss. If we follow Blanchard’s Situational Leadership (2010, 2019), we will first diagnose the development level of the employee. Second, we will use a leadership style to match the development level of the employee. Third, we will partner with the employee for performance (or align with the employee and set goals)*. [*In the 3rd edition (2019), Blanchard and team moved the third step to the first step.]

Diagnose Development Level: The employee is most likely at the D2 or D3 level. She is fairly to moderately competent but struggles with her commitment.

    • D2 (low to some competence/low commitment)—use a Coaching (S2) leadership style.
    • D3 (moderate to high competence/variable commitment)—use a Supporting (S3) leadership style.

Match Leadership Style: We arrive at two recommended leadership styles that the manager could have used to interact with her:

    • S2—Coaching = high direction/high support
    • S3—Supporting = high support/low direction

The employee might be at the D2 level, wherein she is somewhat new and although she knows the basics, she still is unsure about her own abilities to master the other skills to be successful in her role. If this is the case, she would need a coaching leadership style that is high on direction but also high on support. The manager will want to “provide a lot of praise and support at this stage because you want to build [her] confidence, restore [her] commitment, and encourage [her] initiative” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 59).

The employee could be at the D3 level, in which she knows her day-to-day responsibilities well but sometimes doubts herself and questions her own ability to perform on her own without needing the manager’s help or the support of others. For employees at the D3 level, the manager should use an S3 (Supporting) leadership style, wherein the manager will support her efforts, listen to her concerns and suggestions, while also being there to support her. The manager will encourage and praise but not direct, since this style is more collaborative (Blanchard, 2019).

Partnering for Performance: Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II (SLII®) emphasize the importance of the manager aligning with his/her direct report for performance. Blanchard calls these alignment conversations, “where you agree on goals, development level, and leadership style.” Be sure that your employees understand and know what you are doing when you try to match your leadership style to their development level and what agreement has been made between the manager and employee about what needs to be done and when (Blanchard, 2019).

In command and control, “the manager tells us what to think and do, while partnering for performance suggests that how we achieve the vision is left open for discussion and input by everyone involved” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 40).

In determining what style to use with what development level, just remember that, “Leaders need to do what the people they supervise currently can’t do for themselves” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 57).

Here are three important caveats.

Caveat #1: “In reality, development level applies not to the person, but to the person’s competence and commitment to do a specific goal or task. In other words, an individual is not at any one development level overall. Development level varies from goal to goal and task to task. An individual can be at one level of development on one goal or task and be at a different level of development on another goal or task” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 81).

Caveat #2: The manager at this particular sandwich shop did not know how to use any other style of leadership other than directing. And even then, he was terrible at it. However, with the proper training, he can be taught the different development levels and leadership styles, and can learn (with practice) how to match his newly learned leadership style to the employee’s development level on a specific goal or task. Only after that can he then have alignment conversations, where both he and the employee will agree on the expected performance behaviors and goals.

Caveat #3: “Just as leaders must move from command and control to a partnering relationship with their people, so too must those who are being led move from ‘waiting to be told’ to taking the initiative to lead themselves” (Blanchard et al., 2019, p. 70).

“If the key role of situational leaders is to become partners with their people, the new role of people is to become partners with their leaders” (Blanchard, 2010, p. 92).

Let’s return to the employee and manager at the sandwich shop. Although we would want the manager to learn the skills to be adaptable in leading and managing the employee (i.e., diagnose development of employee, match leadership style, partnering for performance), the onus is also on the employee to become empowered, and learn to be more self-directed and self-lead so that she is not constantly looking to or asking the manager for directions.

“If empowerment is to be successful, organizations and leaders must develop self leaders in the workforce who have the skills to take initiative” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 70).

“All people have peak performance potential—you just need to know where they are coming from and meet them there” (Blanchard, 2019, p. 65).

Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Leadership & Talent Development Consultant

References

Blanchard, K. (2019). Leading at a higher level (3rd ed.). Pearson Education, Inc.

Blanchard, K. (2010). Leading at a higher level (Revised and Expanded ed.). FT Press.